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Royal Tusk: Gallery Label - Current


Minneapolis Institute of Arts



Institution Minneapolis Institute of Arts
The ancestral altars of the Oba, or ruler of Benin, feature carved elephant tusks like this one, set into the top of a cast bronze portrait head. Because of its rarity and permanence, ivory is especially suitable for recording royal historical events, and many tusks recount episodes from Benin history or lives of the Obas.This tusk may have come from the altar of an Ezomo, the highest-ranking noble in Benin. The figures with fishtails instead of legs refer to the Oba himself (the Oba traces his descent from Olokun, lord of the sea, and thus controls the realms of both water and land). In the fourth row, on the inside of the curve of the tusk, is an elephant, probably referring to the Iyase n'Ode, a famous military leader who was able to transform himself into an elephant. He almost overthrew two Obas before being defeated by a loyal Ezomo. This episode from Benin folklore helps to secure the powerful role of the present Ezomo, who must act as protector to the royal house.Other images include the leopard, a royal symbol because of its power and intelligence; Adesua, an Ezomo's young daughter, whose actions brought trouble to Benin; members of the Oba's special guard who wear the bronze image of a royal leopard on their belts; and Portuguese soldiers (with long, straight hair and beards), allies of Benin since the fifteenth century. Additional figures represent nobles, attendants, and soldiers of the Oba.
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Type: Commentary, Gallery Label - Current
Source: Minneapolis Institute of Arts
Rights: Copyright Minneapolis Institute of Arts
Added to Site: November 21, 2009