It made sense that Nigerians wanted the mask to act as a mascot for a festival known as FESTAC ’77, a celebration of the continent’s culture. 

But for that to happen, Nigerian officials were going to have to free her from “prison,” …..(to) enable the country get back one of its lost cultural treasures, if only temporarily.

It turned out that their optimism was misplaced: the British Museum rejected their plea “on conservation grounds,” claiming that the humidity in Nigeria would damage the work.

 In other words, the climate in which the mask was originally made would, in the eyes of the British, prove too hostile for it. 

Nigeria’s Daily Times called the quagmire a “tragi-comedy.” 

In a fittingly dark conclusion, despite the protests of Africans living in London, the work never made it to Lagos. 

Today, it is still housed by the British Museum, which has owned it since 1910.


Height: 24.50 centimetres, Width: 12.50 centimetres, Depth: 6 centimetres. Materials elephant ivory, iron, copper alloy. Technique – carved, inlaid.

***********This type of mask was worn by the Oba, on the hip, during important ceremonies. The mask is said to represent Idia, mother of Oba Esigie who ruled in the sixteenth century. 

The top of the hip mask is decorated with heads representing the Portuguese, symbolizing Benin’s alliance with and control over Europeans. 

The Portuguese continued to appear in Benin art long after they had disappeared from Benin itself.

Three of the other masks of this type are in public collections in the UK and the USA. 

They are recorded as being found in a cache in the bedchamber of the Oba in Benin City and were looted during the British expedition 1897.

These pendants are widely considered as some of the finest ivory carvings in the Benin corpus. 

They are also among the most enduring and emotive examples of the representation of women in Benin court art.

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