Art and Rule in the Benin Kingdom

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

Benin Kingdom peoples, Nigeria, King of Benin. Photo by Barbara W. Blackmun. 

For many centuries, elephant ivory has had a prominent place in the religion, history, and arts of Benin.  During the protective ceremony called Emobo that ends Igue, an ivory gong is struck repeatedly with an ivory wand by the Oba as he banishes unwanted spirits from Benin City. The gong simulates an iron instrument that is believed to have curative power.  It reminds the Edo of an event in which the sixteenth century Oba Esigie was driven mad by a curse. He was restored to sanity by the playing of a gong belonging to his mother, Queen Idia.  This celebrated queen mother (Iye-Oba) is remembered for her reputed ability to manipulate supernatural forces on behalf of her son and his kingdom.