What power weaves strength through this face?
Of Idia, queen from Benin.
Authority conjured in ivory
Great noble who knows how to win.
Portuguese traders, her puppets
Bound up as clips in her hair
Deep marks of scarification
Assert influence and dominance there.
Only one look from this death mask
Will all opposition repress
Giving power throughout generations
A talisman for success.
There are several of these masks, one in the Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York), the Seattle Art Museum, another in the Linden Museum (Stuttgart) which I photographed in the British Museum (London),
“The Benin ivory mask is a miniature sculptural portrait in ivory of the powerful Queen Mother Idia of the 16th century Benin Empire, taking the form of an African traditional mask. The likeness was worn however, not as a mask, but as a pendant by her son Esigie, who owed his kingship as Oba of Benin to the Queen Mother’s military aid.” from Wikipedia
The fact that this was worn not as a mask but around the waist or possibly hung from the neck of her son Esigie in the 16th century, indicates it was probably a talisman of power. Wikipedia states, “The masks may have been used in ceremonies including the Ugie Iyoba commemoration of the Oba’s mother, as well the Emobo purification ceremony to expel bad spirits from the land. Similar pendant masks are mainly used in contemporary Emobo ceremonies focused on bad spirits, though the traditions of Emobo may have changed throughout history.”
Poem and photo copyright to Englepip©