Benin Empire (everyday objects - Keys, Lamps, etc)

#1
https://cosmicyoruba.xyz/everyday-objects-benin-empire/

A sketch of a Benin hand lamp - Never thought of another use of palm oil, besides food, lmao



Brass key hook with four-arm cross finial


Iron key with trefoil-shaped brass finial inlaid with agate


Bell (with human head, and crocodiles) made of bronze


Mirror
http://i66.tinypic.com/291giah.jpg

A bronze design of their traditional architecture
http://i65.tinypic.com/122j829.jpg

Compound and street lamps. Source - Great Benin - Its Customs, Art, and Horror


More Keys


Another key


Lamp made of Iron


Lamp made of metal


Bronze four-wick lamp with four link suspension chain with hook at end


Cubical-metal-lamp-with-handle-chain-hook-for-suspension
 

Ighayere

Ad Honorem
Jul 2012
2,546
Benin City, Nigeria
#3
That piece is quite interesting.

Do we have a date for it?
The soldiers in the top represent Benin soldiers?
What we know about this piece?
In all descriptions that I've seen so far (in art books or history books or articles) those soldiers are described as European mercenaries (usually described as specifically Portuguese mercenaries). For example in Ryder's book Benin and the Europeans, an image of that box is shown with the caption:

"A brass box representing part of the Oba's palace. Early European travellers mention brass figures of birds and snakes attached to the roof of the palace. The Europeans with muskets may symbolize the Portuguese who served the Oba in the early sixteenth century."

The identification of them as depictions of European mercenaries in various sources seems correct since their overall look/form, even on this smaller scale, resembles that of the depictions of several other Europeans in the art.
 

Ighayere

Ad Honorem
Jul 2012
2,546
Benin City, Nigeria
#4

Tulius

Ad Honorem
May 2016
5,104
Portugal
#5
In all descriptions that I've seen so far (in art books or history books or articles) those soldiers are described as European mercenaries (usually described as specifically Portuguese mercenaries). For example in Ryder's book Benin and the Europeans, an image of that box is shown with the caption:

"A brass box representing part of the Oba's palace. Early European travellers mention brass figures of birds and snakes attached to the roof of the palace. The Europeans with muskets may symbolize the Portuguese who served the Oba in the early sixteenth century."

The identification of them as depictions of European mercenaries in various sources seems correct since their overall look/form, even on this smaller scale, resembles that of the depictions of several other Europeans in the art.
Thanks. As you may imagine, that doesn’t surprise me, I kind of expected that was related, even if the pose seems similar to the depictions of other Portuguese in Benin art, these seemed somewhat different, at least in their headgear, without the morion, and that may have induced me in error.

Any close up of the soldiers? Or even the headgear? Still didn’t found any good one in the net.

By the way, the birds seem eagles! Any interpretation?
 

Ighayere

Ad Honorem
Jul 2012
2,546
Benin City, Nigeria
#6
Thanks. As you may imagine, that doesn’t surprise me, I kind of expected that was related, even if the pose seems similar to the depictions of other Portuguese in Benin art, these seemed somewhat different, at least in their headgear, without the morion, and that may have induced me in error.

Any close up of the soldiers? Or even the headgear? Still didn’t found any good one in the net.

The figures depicted do seem to be showing long hair, like this man:

https://kmjantz.files.wordpress.com/2014/11/fig09-15.jpg

Or this one:

http://hum.lss.wisc.edu/hjdrewal/aa241g12.jpg

While the surviving image of an Edo musketeer is quite distinct in appearance (apart from the kilt, which is in the Portuguese style) from the Portuguese depictions:

https://i.pinimg.com/originals/a5/2b/ca/a52bcabc793f7814384a1f3996bcfc4f.jpg

So of course it makes sense to identify the men on the box as Portuguese mercenaries. The depiction of the headgear in that box piece might be a little off compared to other more accurate depictions in the art. Maybe the artists were working from memory and description alone and didn't have any examples of Portuguese soldiers around. They may have seen a Portuguese man with this sort of helmet:

https://media1.britannica.com/eb-media/00/134500-004-ACD60E9E.jpg

And then depicted a slightly flatter version of it when working from memory.

I haven't seen examples of Portuguese soldiers from that time period in Benin art or any other art which show such flat headgear, so I think it is just an inaccurate detail in this case.

By the way, the birds seem eagles! Any interpretation?
The bird may be the "bird of prophecy". An account of its significance is given here:

The Prophetic Bird Of Edo Culture

One can find some more information about the significance of the bird of prophecy in the recent book Iyare! Splendor and Tension in Benin's Palace Theatre (2016).

Some images:

Idiophone: bird of prophecy (ahianmwen-oro) (y1968-33)

Staff showing a bird of prophesy | Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Depicted here with some acrobats:

https://africa.uima.uiowa.edu/chapters/ancient-africa/benin-kingdom/?start=11

The bird of prophecy should be an ibis, not an eagle.

But Benin, along with some other cultures in southern Nigeria did hold the eagle in esteem, so those birds could be eagles symbolizing power instead and may not be intended as depictions of the bird of prophecy. The fish-eagle did hold some cultural significance:

https://books.google.com/books?id=Q...6AEIKDAB#v=onepage&q=benin fish eagle&f=false

https://books.google.com/books?id=G...ved=0ahUKEwiBnsOMgojaAhVNY6wKHaKbDd4Q6AEINDAD

https://books.google.com/books?id=v...6AEIRTAG#v=onepage&q=benin fish eagle&f=false

https://books.google.com/books?id=O...v=onepage&q=benin kingdom fish eagles&f=false

There are many other references to the fish-eagle as a symbol of power in many other books and some articles on Benin or Benin art specifically. Some sources only refer to fish eagles, which one would associate with this animal:

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/African_fish_eagle

Whereas other sources that mention fish eagles in Benin art and culture mention "vulturine fish eagles" specifically, a description which one would associate with this animal:

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Palm-nut_vulture

I don't think there is a certain/definite identification of what these particular birds on this box were, but those seem like the three best candidates: the ibis, the African fish-eagle, and the vulturine fish-eagle.
 
Last edited:

Tulius

Ad Honorem
May 2016
5,104
Portugal
#7
Thanks for the detailed answer, both on the soldiers and on the birds.

About the soldiers, the possibility that the artist was working from memory or by others accounts it’s plausible, or that is some kind of “beret”.
 

Ighayere

Ad Honorem
Jul 2012
2,546
Benin City, Nigeria
#8
Thanks for the detailed answer, both on the soldiers and on the birds.
Sure, no problem.

About the soldiers, the possibility that the artist was working from memory or by others accounts it’s plausible, or that is some kind of “beret”.
Now that you mention it the headgear does kind of look like a beret. But I don't know if it is really plausible that soldiers would wear a beret in the 16th century, even when not in combat. Seems like it wouldn't quite fit with the European military gear of the time period.
 

Tulius

Ad Honorem
May 2016
5,104
Portugal
#9
Now that you mention it the headgear does kind of look like a beret. But I don't know if it is really plausible that soldiers would wear a beret in the 16th century, even when not in combat. Seems like it wouldn't quite fit with the European military gear of the time period.
Maybe… several types of “berets” (or “caps”, I would call it “gorro” in Portuguese), were common among sailors and soldiers, in the 15th and 16th centuries.

For instance, just “now”, in this thread: http://historum.com/war-military-history/131135-zweihander-tactics-2.html, Deaf Turner posted a manual of swordfight (https://www.umass.edu/renaissance/lord/pdfs/Marozzo_1536.pdf). In the page 5 of the pdf, on the left side we can see 3 soldiers. Imagine them without the plumes in the headgear. A closer look of the figures would be necessary.
 

Ighayere

Ad Honorem
Jul 2012
2,546
Benin City, Nigeria
#10
Maybe… several types of “berets” (or “caps”, I would call it “gorro” in Portuguese), were common among sailors and soldiers, in the 15th and 16th centuries.

For instance, just “now”, in this thread: http://historum.com/war-military-history/131135-zweihander-tactics-2.html, Deaf Turner posted a manual of swordfight (https://www.umass.edu/renaissance/lord/pdfs/Marozzo_1536.pdf). In the page 5 of the pdf, on the left side we can see 3 soldiers. Imagine them without the plumes in the headgear. A closer look of the figures would be necessary.
I see. Thanks for those images and the explanation. Those hats do look quite flat, so I guess it is possible that such caps are what was depicted.
 

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