Art and Rule in the Benin Kingdom

by Barbara W. Blackmun
Professor Emeritus, San Diego Mesa College

Chief Izevbizua Iyamu, the Esogban of Benin, one of the four Town Chiefs, wearing ehaengbehia. Benin City, Nigeria, December, 1981. Photo by Barbara W. Blackmun.

The helmet is called ogbovu, “killer of vexation,” and represents the self-control that must be exercised by anyone with authority over others.  The overlapping pieces of ododo symbolize scales of the pangolin, or armored anteater, because of the effectiveness of this animal’s self-defense.  The panel with fingerlike extensions is called abuwa, the “hand of wealth.”  Two of these are worn on the left side, under the cast brass hip mask, to celebrate the achievement of a fully successful life.