Benin Mask



This Benin mask is a replica of the original crafted from ivory. Unlike many African masks, it represents a real person, an ancestral queen mother of the Oba (divine King of Benin). The king ordered his distinguished craftsmen to carve figures, ornaments and masks which he would keep in the palace. The representations of these objects served above all to exalt the king, the queen mother, the princes and royal household, or to illustrate important events. The mask is an idealized portrait, portraying its subject with softly modeled features, bearing carved scarification marks on the forehead, and wearing bands of coral beads below the chin. In the openwork tiara and collar are carved mudfish and the bearded faces of Portuguese (Ancient Egyptians). Because they live both on land and in the water, mudfish represent the king's dual nature as human and divine. Having come from across the seas, the Portuguese were considered habitants of the spirit kingdom who brought wealth and power to the Oba. The Edo customarily marked the skin by cutting, pricking, or burning to create designs on the face. The two rectangular cavities on the forehead once held precious metal and represented the high status of the queen mother. The four marks above each eye tell us that she was a woman; men had only three marks.

The Oba wore the mask hanging on his chest or at his side for a ceremony honoring his dead mother. Even though it is a face mask, it was never worn on the face. The Queen Mother's mask was used in important ceremonies honoring the queen mother.

Hard wood

Height: 15.5″ (39.4cm)