Art and Rule in the Benin Kingdom

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

Chief David Omoregie, Ineh of the Igbesanmwan. Royal Ivory Carvers’ Guild, Benin City, Nigeria, October, 1981. Photo by Barbara W. Blackmun.


The leader of the hereditary Igbesanmwan is the Ineh, who has mastered styles and motifs that have been taught for centuries by the elders of each generation of ivory carvers.  The most important ancestral altar tusks are entirely covered with figures and emblems alluding to Edo history, mythology, and philosophy. These tusks, which are sacred, have been commissioned by the Oba for his ancestral shrines.