Benin Empire dates back to prehistoric times, the political systems that
were monarchial, were well established before the fourteenth century.
The Rulers of Benin and Yoruba had close ties, and by the fifteenth
century Benin became and important power in the region.
the backing of the monarchy selected artists of Benin developed a
special style of sculpture vastly different from the rest of the region.
They produced many fine bronze and or brass heads, figurines, brass
plaques, and large rectangular metal pictures, which were used to
decorate the Oba's palace.
Benin Empire soon became the largest of the political systems of the
Guinea Coast and toward the middle of the sixteenth century; the Oba
ruled an area, which spread from modern Lagos to the Niger Delta.
Back in the late 19th century when
the British forces invaded Benin City, they were overwhelmed to find
artistic sculptures cast in brass/bronze. They could not believe the
technological sophistication and exquisite beauty and quality of these
objects. What they saw was a total contradiction to what many westerners
believed or assumed about Africa. The above was too much for the British
forces to bear and they swiftly concocted excuses - "The
sculptures must have been made by the Portuguese, the Egyptians, or the
lost tribes of Israel"
The so-called "Portuguese,
Egyptian or Israeli" sculptures eventually found their way to
Britain and later to other parts of Europe, where it was first
classified as Benin bronze sculpture,
despite it being largely of brass.
Since then archeological, historical,
scientific and anthropological studies clearly indicates that the people
of Benin, was at that time an advance culture. Benin brass/bronze
sculptures are now classified as Early, Middle and Late Century. (The
latter implying of lesser quality) Further proof of the complex
societies and advanced African cultures can found by clicking
here (Mapungubwe - South Africa)
The bronze head of the Queen mother:
The Benin King or Oba
- Esigie first introduced the title to honor his mother Idia. Queen
mothers had a special link with the cockerel: the heads functioned as a
means of contact with the divine realm.
The king (Oba) was associated with the leopard these types of sculptures
appeared on altars in the queen mothers palace at Uselu just outside the
Capital of Benin.
of these old sculptures, have become famous throughout the world. One
example of these is the symbol used for FESTAC '77, a Benin Bronze Head
a true masterpiece and of the highest quality. It
is a great pity that present
generations of Nigeria must fly to London to see this remarkable symbol.