The Kingdom of Benin

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Ivory Mask

Ivory hip ornament from Benin, Nigeria, mid-16th century. Ivory and iron, 9 3/8" high. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York - ivory would be worn only by the oba (ruler)

The Benin Empire, one of the Yoruba kingdoms, was at its height between 1300 and 1700. A highly organized society, there was a strict social heirarchy.

The predominant origin story of the Benin people said that the Edo village chiefs of Benin sent a messenger to Ile-Ife asking its divine ruler to send a leader to restore order. The Ife king sent his son. The son did not stay but left behind a child who in time became ruler of Benin, Oba Eweka I (around 1200).

The Benin people traded with the Portuguese for European goods and guns. In return the Benin offered local products such as ivory, palm oil and slaves. In the early 16th century a Benin ambassador was sent to Portugal and the King of Portugal sent Christian missionaries. Later the English traded also traded with Benin. The great capital city, Benin City, was a wonder to the European visitors. Benin Art is remarkable for any time, strikingly naturalistic.


Part of The Yoruba African Kingdoms Exhibit

African Kingdoms Primary Sources


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