Art and Rule in the Benin Kingdom

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

Textiles on display on Iwebo Street, Ogbe, the area of the Oba’s Palace, Benin City, Nigeria, April 1994. Photo by Barbara W. Blackmun.


Fragments of woven cloth, in raffia and in cotton, have been found archaeologically in thirteenth century deposits near the Oba’s palace.  Benin’s cotton cloths were some of the first articles sought by fifteenth century traders, who exchanged the cloths for gold in the area known today as Ghana.  Merchants also brought luxurious fabrics to Benin from Europe and Asia, and the Edo became sophisticated consumers.  Early descriptions of the clothing worn by Benin’s elite mention the variety of fine textiles, and these are reflected in sculptures that depict elaborately dressed courtiers.