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So acute is the dearth of information, particularly documentary evidence, that some of the outstanding women in history have been mistaken for men and their achievements, attributed to male rulers!
Introduction Present Benin history is the product of several reconstructions that commenced after the accession of Oba Eweka II in Two central problematics shaped these reconstructions, namely, the glorification drive of cultural nationalism, and the male privileging ethos of a patriarchal gender ideology.
The second phase occurred within a scholarly convention and a view of history that devalued women through assuming their irrelevance in political matters Bradbury and through focusing exclusively on European archival materials, giving scant attention to Benin oral and performative traditions Fagg; RyderSargent Bust of Iyoba Idia Relocating to an African epistemological framework requires us to adopt a different methodological strategy and to contest the ideology of male dominance.
We approach historical evidence cautiously, considering various possibilities, centering African concepts and value-systems, and seeking justification for our interpretations.
We question the view that the value system of Benin culture remained unchanged in the face of violent externally imposed, economic, political, and social changes Kaplan Such a notion of stability is incongruent with the dynamic processes of change, the multipronged and multilayered impact of Christianity and Islam, the patriarchal sexist capitalist values of colonialism, and the white supremacist ideology of westernization on Benin society and the Edo family system since An uncritical subscription to a static view of The hidden mask propels scholars to miss the possibility that some of the initiatives, events, and acts that have been ascribed to an Oba in old Benin may, in fact, have been conceptualized, initiated, and implemented by an Iyoba Mother of Oba.
But oral tradition and the history performed in annual festivals, as well as the pioneering work of Bini cultural historian, Jacob Egharevba, falsify this assumption4 So what if, in the fluid political conditions of the expansion of the Benin empire, some of the initiatives that were attributed to Oba Esigie were the initiatives of Iyoba Idia, the mother of Oba Esigie?
No research has yet been done to exclude this possibility. The questions the essay will answer are, what is the political The hidden mask of Idia in Benin dynastic history?
Why was the Iyoba institution created? From where did Oba Esigie derive the idea of the institution? What political advantage did he gain from it? And why did Idia exert on him the kind of influence that she did?
Her face has gazed on us from countless museum pedestals the world over. It has been widely reproduced on commemorative trays, cups and plates, jewelry, ebony and brass plaques, and on textiles, specifically george materials of the Intorica and Indian Madras labels, wax design cotton prints, and tee-shirts.
The visibility of the mask increased when the British Museum refused to release it on loan to Nigeria even after demanding two million pounds, which the Nigerian government put up.
The late Oba Akenzua II, then reigning Oba of Benin, broke the impasse by commissioning the Igbesamwan ivory carvers guild to produce two replicas of the Idia mask that had been looted by British soldiers of the punitive expeditionary force.
The fine workmanship of the replicas established that modern Benin ivory carvers are consummate artists as were their forebears, and like the latter, responded with pride and reverence to the royal commission.
It is unclear if the Nigerian military government officials who approved the mask as the symbol of FESTAC 77 would have done so if they knew the face was that of a woman. There was a time scholars such as George Parrinder declared that the face belonged to an Oba The result of these two misconceptions is that figures that may have been female are described as male.
The identified Idia mask in the British museum, for which replicas were carved, is one of several such ivory masks commemorating Iyoba Idia looted by British soldiers after the Benin Expedition.
These belt pendant plaques were produced in the same historical period that the Igbesamwan was carving fine, intricately carved ivory tusks, saltcellars, daggers, and spoon for the Portuguese market Bassani and Fagg Iron and copper inserts were embedded in these cavities in the original model and formed part of the decoration.
Some have claimed that these cavities were receptacles for embedded magical potions, and there is a historical explanation for them. The striations were the result of incisions a local doctor-diviner made to disfigure Idia and render her unattractive to Oba Ozolua.
The two incisions not only scarred her face but, to make assurance double sure, they also contained potent medicinal potions which the consulting physician-diviner had assured them would repel Oba Ozolua.
The royal explanation is that the plan failed because the Oba sensed that something was wrong before he even saw Idia and quickly neutralized the effects of the medicine. As the illustration shows, that these ivory masks were meticulously carved with ornate designs that reflect the dignity of Iyoba Idia.
The tiara of the mask in the British Museum as well as a similar mask in the Metropolitan Museum New York displays exquisitely carved miniature heads of Portuguese soldiers.
An intricate border frames the lower part of her face, made up of alternating images of Portuguese merchants and of deep ocean fish and heads, symbol of the god Olokun as well as the royal symbol of ocean-derived wealth and riches Bassani and Fagg By contrast, the equally exquisitely sculpted ivory mask in Linden Museum, Stuttgart is framed with fine, intricately carved miniature forms of deep ocean fishes.
Like the fish design, the stylized Portuguese heads are integral to the overall design of this ivory pendant mask, and like the former, they proclaim the power, pomp and pageantry of Iyoba Idia, and the formidable presence of the then newly created Iyoba title in Benin political affairs.
Oba Erediauwa confirmed that of the two strings of ivory pendants he wears during the Igue festival and for the Emobo ceremony, one is the ivory pendant of the face of the Iyoba Kaplan The official story is that Iyoba Idia is the mother of Esigie, the Oba who reigned from We do not know the exact date of her birth or death, but she was alive during the Idah war in which her army and war general secured a resounding victory for Benin Oronsaye61; Ebohon60; Egharevba For one, the victory over Idah not only eliminated it as a potential threat, but it also enabled Benin to gain and consolidate its imperial advantage in the north-south Niger river trade route that stretched all the way to the commercial centers of the Songhai empire and to the Atlantic ocean Sargent Secondly, she promoted and fought relentlessly to wrest the Obaship for Osawe the personal name of Oba Esigiean action that allowed Benin to reach its apogee.
Before Esigie gained control of the imperial administration, and even after, she was the power behind the throne. Finally, the establishment of the institution of Iyoba Mother of the Oba not only accorded power to royal mothers in the running of the kingdom, most profoundly, it shifted the longstanding administrative protocol that conferred power to females from daughters, who are of royal blood, to wives, who are nonroyals.
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