Author: Pitt-Rivers, Augustus Henry Lane-Fox, 1827-1900
Art objects — Nigeria — Benin City — Catalogs
Antique Works of Art from Benin
Collected by Lieutenant-General Pitt Rivers
WORKS OF ART FROM BENIN,
OBTAINED BY THE PUNITIVE EXPEDITION IN 1897, AND NOW IN GENERAL PITT RIVERS’S MUSEUM AT FARNHAM, DORSET.
Benin is situated on the Guinea Coast, near the mouth of the Niger, in latitude 6·12 north, and longitude 5 to 6 east.
It was discovered by the Portuguese at the end of the fourteenth or commencement of the fifteenth centuries. The Portuguese were followed by the Dutch and Swedes, and in 1553 the first English expedition arrived on the coast, and established a trade with the king, who received them willingly.
Benin at that time appears by a Dutch narrative to have been quite a large city, surrounded by a high wall, and having a broad street through the centre. The people were comparatively civilized. The king possessed a number of horses which have long since disappeared and become unknown. Faulkner, in 1825, saw three solitary horses belonging to the king, which he says no one was bold enough to ride.
In 1702 a Dutchman, named Nyendaeel, describes the city, and speaks of the human sacrifices there. He says that the people were great makers of ornamental brass work in his day, which they seem to have learnt from the Portuguese. It was visited by Sir Richard Burton, who went there to try to put a stop to human sacrifices, at the time he was consul at Fernando Po. In 1892 it was visited by Captain H. L. Galloway, who speaks of the city as possessing only the ruins of its former greatness; the abolition of the slave trade had put a stop to the prosperity of the place, and the king had prohibited any intercourse with Europeans. The town had been reduced to a collection of huts, and its trade had dwindled down to almost nil. The houses have a sort of impluvium in the centre of the rooms, which has led some to suppose that their style of architecture may have been derived from the Roman colonies of North Africa.
In 1896 an expedition, consisting of some 250 men, with presents and merchandise, left the British settlements on the coast, and endeavoured to advance towards Benin city. The expedition was conducted with courage and perseverance, but with the utmost rashness. Almost unarmed, neglecting all ordinary precautions, contrary to the advice of the neighbouring chiefs, and with the express prohibition of the King of Benin to advance, they marched straight into an ambuscade which had been prepared for them in the forest on each side of the road, and as their revolvers were locked up in their boxes at the time, they were massacred to a man with the exception of two, Captain Boisragon and Mr. Locke, who, after suffering the utmost hardships, escaped to the British settlements on the coast to tell the tale.
Within five weeks after the occurrence, a punitive expedition entered Benin, on 18th January, 1897, and took the town. The king fled, but was afterwards brought back and made to humiliate himself before his conquerers, and his territory annexed to the British crown.
The city was found in a terrible state of bloodshed and disorder, saturated with the blood of human sacrifices offered up to their Juju, or religious rites and customs, for which the place had long been recognised as the “city of blood.”
What may be hereafter the advantages to trade resulting from this expedition it is difficult to say, but the point of chief interest in connection with the subject of this paper was the discovery, mostly in the king’s compound and the Juju houses, of numerous works of art in brass, bronze, and ivory, which, as before stated, were mentioned by the Dutchman, Van Nyendaeel, as having been constructed by the people of Benin in 1700.
These antiquities were brought away by the members of the punitive expedition and sold in London and elsewhere. Little or no account of them could be given by the natives, and as the expedition was as usual unaccompanied by any scientific explorer charged with the duty of making inquiries upon matters of historic and antiquarian interest, no reliable information about them could be obtained. They were found buried and covered with blood, some of them having been used amongst the apparatus of their Juju sacrifices.
A good collection of these antiquities, through the agency of Mr. Charles Read, F.S.A., has found its way into the British Museum; others no doubt have fallen into the hands of persons whose chief interest in them has been as relics of a sensational and bloody episode, but their real value consists in their representing a phase of art—and rather an advanced stage—of which there is no actual record, although no doubt we cannot be far wrong in attributing it to European influence, probably that of the Portuguese some time in the sixteenth century.
A. P. R.
DESCRIPTION OF PLATE I.
Fig. 1.—Bronze plaque, representing two warriors with broad leaf-shaped swords in their right hands. Coral or agate head-dress. Coral chokers, badge of rank. Leopards’ teeth necklace. Coral scarf across shoulder. Leopards’ heads hanging on left sides. Skirts each ornamented with a human head. Armlets, anklets, etc. Ground ornamented with the usual foil ornament incised.
Fig. 2.—Bronze plaque, representing two figures holding plaques or books in front. Coral chokers, badge of rank. Reticulated head-dresses of coral or agate, similar to that represented in Plate XXI, Fig. 121. Barbed objects of unknown use behind left shoulders, ornamented with straight line diaper pattern. Ground ornamented with foil ornaments incised. Guilloche on sides of plaque.
Fig. 3.—Bronze plaque, representing three warriors, two with feathers in head-dress and trefoil leaves at top; one with pot helmet, button on top. The latter has a coral choker, badge of rank, and all have leopards’ teeth necklaces. The central figure has a cylindrical case on shoulder. Two have hands on their sword-hilts. All three have leopards’ heads on breast, and quadrangular bells hanging from neck. Leopards’ skins and other objects hang on left sides. Ground ornamented with foil ornaments incised.
Fig. 4.—Bronze plaque, figure of warrior with spear in right hand, shield on left shoulder. Head-dress of coral or agate, similar to that represented in Plate XXI, Fig. 121. Quadrangular bell hanging from neck. Chain-like anklets. Coral choker, badge of rank, and leopards’ teeth necklace. A nude attendant on right upholds a large broad leaf-shaped sword, with a ring attached to pommel. Another holds two sistri or bells fastened together by a chain. Small figure on left is blowing an elephant’s tusk trumpet. Figures above in profile are holding up tablets or books. The dress of one of them is fastened with tags or loops of unusual form. These figures have Roman noses, and are evidently not negro. Ground ornamented with the usual foil ornament incised.
DESCRIPTION OF PLATE II.
Figs. 5 and 6.—Bronze plaque, representing a warrior in centre, turned to his left. He has a beard and a necklace of leopards’ teeth, but no coral choker. He has a high helmet, somewhat in the form of a grenadier cap. Quadrangular bell on neck. Dagger in sheath on right side, and various appurtenances hanging from his dress. He holds a narrow leaf-shaped sword in his right hand over an enemy who has fallen, and who has already a leaf-shaped sword thrust through his body. The victim has a sword-sheath on left side, with broad end, and a peculiar head-dress. His horse is represented below with an attendant holding it by a chain and carrying barbed darts in his left hand. On the right of the conqueror is a small figure blowing a tusk trumpet, and on his right a larger figure carrying a shield in his left hand and a cluster of weapons. He has a high helmet, ornamented with representations of cowrie shells of nearly the same form as that of the central figure. Above are two figures, one blowing what appears to be a musical instrument and the other carrying a barbed pointed implement, and armed with a sword in sheath similar to that of the fallen warrior. The plaque appears to represent a victory of some kind, and all the conquerors have the same high helmet. The ground is ornamented with the usual foil ornament incised.
Figs. 7 and 8.—Bronze plaque, representing a king or noble on horseback sitting sideways, his hands upheld by attendants, one of whom has a long thin sword in his hand in sheath. Two attendants, with helmets or hair represented by ribs, are holding up shields to shelter the king from the sun. The king or noble has a coral choker, badge of rank, with a coral necklace hanging on breast. Horse’s head-collar hung with crotals. A small attendant carries a “manilla” in his hand. The two figures above are armed with bows and arrows. Ground ornamented with foil ornaments incised.
De Bry, “India Orientalis,” says that in the sixteenth century both the king and chiefs were wont to ride side-saddle upon led horses. They were supported by retainers, who held over their heads either shields or umbrellas, and accompanied by a band of musicians playing on ivory horns, gong-gongs, drums, harps, and a kind of rattle.
DESCRIPTION OF PLATE III.
Fig. 9.—Bronze plaque, naked figure of boy; hair in conventional bands; three tribal marks over each eye and band on forehead. Coral choker, badge of rank. Armlets and anklets. Four rosettes on ground and usual foil ornaments. De Bry says that all young people went naked until marriage.
Fig. 10.—Bronze plaque, figure of warrior with helmet or hair represented by ribs. Leaf-shaped sword upheld in right hand. A bundle of objects on head upheld by left hand. Object resembling a despatch case on left side, fastened by a belt over right shoulder. Human mask on left side. Four fishes on ground, and the usual foil ornaments incised.
Figs. 11 and 12.—Bronze plaque, representing a figure holding a ball, perhaps a cannon ball, in front. Coral choker, badge of rank. Three tribal marks over each eye. Crest on head-dress, feather in cap. Skirt wound up behind left shoulder. Skirt ornamented with a head and hands. Four rosettes on ground, and usual foil ornaments incised. Guilloche on sides of plaque.
DESCRIPTION OF PLATE IV.
Fig. 13.—Bronze plaque, figure of warrior, feather in cap; broad leaf-shaped sword in right hand. Coral choker, badge of rank. Leopards’ teeth necklace. Coral sash; ground ornamented with leaf-shaped foil, ornaments incised.
Figs. 14 and 15.—Bronze ægis or plaque, with representations of two figures with staves in their right hands. Coral chokers, badge of rank. On the breasts are two Maltese crosses hanging from the necks, which appear to be European Orders. The objects held in left hands have been broken off. The hats are similar to that on the head of the figure, Fig. 91, Plate XV. Ground ornamented with the usual foil ornaments incised.
Fig. 16.—Bronze plaque, figure of warrior with pot helmet, button on top. Coral choker, badge of rank, on neck. Leopards’ teeth necklace. Quadrangular bell on breast. Armlets, anklets, &c. Four rosettes on ground, and the usual foil ornaments incised.
Fig. 17.—Bronze plaque, figure of warrior with spear in right hand, shield in left hand; pot helmet, button on top. Quadrangular bell hanging from neck. Coral choker, badge of rank. Leopards’ teeth necklace. Leopard’s skin dress with head to front. On the ground are two horses’ heads below and two rosettes above. Ground ornamented with the usual foil ornaments incised.
Fig. 18.—Bronze plaque, figure of warrior. Peculiarly ornamented head-dress. Coral choker, badge of rank. Leopards’ teeth necklace. Broad leaf-shaped sword in right hand. Coral sash on breast. Leopard’s mask hanging on left side. Armlets, anklets, &c. Small figure of boy, naked, to right, holding a metal dish with lid in form of an ox’s head. A similar object may be seen amongst the Benin objects in the British Museum.
DESCRIPTION OF PLATE V.
Figs. 19, 20 and 21.—Stained ivory carving of figure on horse. Coral choker; spear in right hand, the shaft broken. Tribal marks on forehead incised. Chain-bridle or head-collar. Degenerate guilloche pattern on base. Straight line diaper pattern represented in various parts. The stand formed as a socket for a pole.
Figs. 22, 23 and 24.—Ivory carving of figure on horse, with spear in right hand and bell on neck, and long hair. The bridle formed as a head-collar. Degenerate guilloche pattern on base. The stand formed as a socket for a pole ornamented with bands of interlaced pattern and the head of an animal.
DESCRIPTION OF PLATE VI.
Figs. 25 and 26.—Ivory carving of a human face. Eyes and bands on forehead inlaid. Straight line diaper pattern on head-dress, above which are conventionalised mud-fish. Four bands of coral across forehead. Ears long and narrow. Found hidden in an oaken chest inside the sleeping apartment of King Duboar.
Fig. 27.—Carved wooden panel, consisting of a chief in the centre; broad leaf-shaped sword, with ring attached to pommel, upheld in right hand, studded with copper nails, and ornamented with representations of itself. In left hand a fan-shaped figure terminating in two hands. Coral choker, badge of rank. Bell on neck and cross-belts. Skirt ornamented with three heads and a guilloche pattern of three bands with pellets. Anklets. Attendant on left holding umbrella over chief’s head. Serpent with human arm and hand in its mouth, head upwards; eyes of inlaid glass; body studded with copper nails. Leopard, drawn head upwards. On right, figure with jug in left hand and cup in right hand, standing in a trough or open vessel. Small attendant with paddle in right hand. At top a bottle bound with grass, and figure of some object, perhaps a stone celt bound with grass. Brass and iron screws are used for ornamentation in this carving. Guilloche pattern of two bands without pellets around the edge of the panel.
Figs. 28, 29 and 30.—Ivory carved tusk, 4 feet 1 inch long from bottom to point; traversed by five bands of interlaced strap-work. The other ornamentation consists of:—Human figures with hands crossed on breast; bird standing on pedestal; human figures with hands holding sashes; trees growing downwards; a rosette; mudfish; crocodiles with heads upwards; a serpent with sinuous body, head downwards; two cups; a serpent, head upwards; detached human heads. Some of the representations are so rude that it requires experience to understand their meaning. On this tusk the interlaced pattern is the prevailing ornament, and it passes into the guilloche pattern. This tusk is more tastefully decorated than the other tusk, Figs. 167 and 168, Plate XXVI, but with less variety in the carving. These carved tusks are said to represent gods in the Ju-ju houses.
DESCRIPTION OF PLATE VII.
Figs. 31 and 32.—Ivory carving of female. The design as rude as found in any part of Africa. Necklet and armlets the same as on the bronze figures.
Fig. 33.—Ivory cup, stained brown.
Fig. 34.—Bronze drinking cup, the same as represented in wood-carving, Fig. 27, Plate VI.
Figs. 35 and 36.—Lion in bronze. The back is cut in a curved line, as if adapting it as a foot to some object.
Fig. 37.—Bracelet of brass, somewhat twisted.
Fig. 38.—Bracelet of brass, with five projections set with agate.
Figs. 39 and 40.—Brass bracelet, with negro heads of copper inlaid. Mud-fish springing from nose on each side and turned up. Coral chokers, badges of rank. The ring is decorated with incised floral ornaments.
DESCRIPTION OF PLATE VIII.
Figs. 41 and 42.—Figure of a warrior in bronze, with leopard’s skin dress; javelins in one hand and shield in the other. Head-dress of peculiar form, with feathers. Leopards’ teeth necklace. Quadrangular bell on breast.
Figs. 43 and 44.—Female figure in bronze, holding up a tablet in right hand. Head-dress, necklace, &c., of coral or agate. Three tribal marks over each eye.
Figs. 45 and 46.—Bronze vessel, somewhat in the form of a coffee-pot. Handle at back, consisting of a snake with a sinuous body, head downwards, holding a full-length human figure in its mouth. The spout consists of a human figure, seated, with two tails; and the spout springs out of the mouth between the teeth of the figure. Round the swell of the vessel are four figures resembling frogs, the bodies ornamented as human heads; nearly similar ornaments are seen on Mexican stone carvings in this collection. The four feet resemble human feet with anklets, all pointing to the front. The lid is ornamented with a human figure seated and four masks, and is fastened to the pot by a hinge.
Figs. 47 and 48.—Bracelet of bronze, ornamented with two rudely formed human heads; some of the yellow earth of the mould appears to be adhering to the interstices.
DESCRIPTION OF PLATE IX.
Figs. 49 and 50.—Narrow armlet of brass, with a succession of animals (? Lizards) in relief on the edge.
Figs. 51 and 52.—Bronze pointed dish on stand, with ribbed cover, rabbetted. Use unknown; perhaps an European ecclesiastical utensil.
Figs. 53 to 55.—Head of a mace, ornamented with leopard and keepers and heads in bas-relief; decorated with interlaced strap-work, with brass inlaid in copper. The human heads are partly negro, whilst others from their straight hair appear to be white men, perhaps Arabs or cross-breds. The mud-fish is represented one on each side. Described by Mr. H. Ling Roth in “The Reliquary,” Vol. IV, 1898, p. 162.
Figs. 56 and 57.—Bronze bottle or power flask, representing a female with barbed arrow-points extending from both sides of the mouth; perhaps symbolical; and holding a four-pronged instrument in the right hand. Three tribal marks over each eye; coral necklace.
DESCRIPTION OF PLATE X.
Figs. 58 and 59.—Leopard’s mask head of brass, the pupils of the eyes represented by a copper band. A band of copper inlaid along the nose and forehead. A barbed figure on each cheek.
Figs. 60 and 61.—Leopard’s mask head of brass, the pupils of the eyes represented by bands. A barbed figure on each cheek. Eyelets along the edges, perhaps to receive crotals as in Figs. 58 and 59.
Figs. 62 and 63.—Leopard’s head in brass, the spots and pupils of eyes in copper. This appears to have been attached with a leather thong to the dress.
Figs. 64 and 65.—Bronze vase. The design appears to be purely native. It is ornamented with four human masks, two of which are ribbed. There are two elephants’ heads with tusks, but no trunks over each ribbed head. Four bands of plain guilloche pattern arranged