Art and Rule in the Benin Kingdom

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

Carving of a Town Chief (?) wearing ehaenegbehia, motif from an ancestral altar tusk. Photo by Barbara W. Blackmun.


The art of Benin illustrates life at the Oba’s court in thousands of metal sculptures and carved ivories created over the past four hundred years.  Because the Edo have preserved so many of their former customs, it is sometimes possible to identify the figures portrayed in this art. For example, on a tusk carved nearly two centuries ago, an Igbesanmwan carver has depicted the already ancient ehaenegbehia regalia of the highest chiefly rank.  In the past this regalia was limited to the four leaders of eghaevbo n’ore (the Town Chiefs) who were charged with representing the people and assisting in the kingdom’s defense.