Bronze relief plate, 16./17. Jahrhundert
Relief plates of this type, using the lost-wax casting process, were placed on wooden poles of the long, square galleries of the palace in the old Kingdom of Benin (around 900 CE until the end of the 19th century).
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The relief plate shows two richly decorated courtly dignitaries in typically measured posture. In front of the chest we see the Ukuse rattle, recognisable by the hand position: the bent right middle finger closes the musical instrument. The high collar and the bands around the wrists and ankles suggest coral jewellery. The osprey feather on the headdress indicates the rank of chieftain. The four-petalled flowers of water plants engraved in the background symbolise the ruler's relationship to the god of water, Olokun and the sun setting in Olokun's kingdom. The number of leaves refers to the order of the Benin world based on a system of four: four cardinal points, four days of the week, four times of the day determined the flow and passage of life. Formally, the motif also shows the influence of European and Islamic ornamentation. Founded around 900 CE, the Kingdom of Benin was one of the most important states in West Africa for centuries. The king, Oba, exercised great power over his people and the region. He was regarded as a mediator between the earthly and the spiritual world and as a ruler with superhuman strength. European greed for the treasures of Africa initially brought great wealth to the royal house. Its location on the delta of the Niger River, which runs over 4,000 km inland, favoured its supremacy. The Obas controlled the trade in raw materials and slaves on the coast and inland. As a result of this, they reached the peak of their power in the 16th and 17th centuries. However, at the end of the 19th century, the king of Benin was unable to withstand the expansion of the British Empire. The British forces conquered its capital in 1897 and the empire was effectively broken up. To strengthen indirect rule over the colony, the English king reinstated Eweka II as heir to the Oba dynasty in 1914. However, the Oba's authority was lost forever. Even today, Obas continue to hold the royal court of Benin. Until 2016, Oba Erediauwa I ruled, who was particularly revered by the Edo/Bini people as a spiritual and local political leader. Translation: Timothy Connell