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Art works of Africa: the Ancient Benin punitive expedition of 1897

Updated on April 6, 2014

Iyoba

Ancient Benin Art, The looting of a culture!

In early 1897, a British Consul and his men, embarked on a journey to the ancient city of Benin. The British claim they were there to investigate claims of ritual human sacrifice being carried out in Benin.

However, According to ancient Benin history, before they could venture into the city, messengers from the Oba (King) met the party on the way, and advised them not to venture into the city, because the annual Igwe festival was taking place. In ancient times, visitors where not allowed to visit the city at this time. According to Benin tradition, any one who violated this rule, had to be put to death.

However, the British counsel and his men ignored this instruction, and proceeded into the city where they were killed.

The British were furious at this turn of events an sent troops to destroy the city, in what has come to be known as the Benin Punitive Expedition.

The city was routed its people were killed, and the Oba(King) known as Oba Ovonramen was captured and sent into exile ..

Oba Ovonramen round about 1897

The looting of a culture

In addition, the troops also looted the Oba’s palace and made a way with about 2500 Benin bronze art works, as well as a substantial amount of ivory.


The British with some of the 'spoils of war'

In foreign lands


What these men are actually sitting on are ornate ivory carvings which adorned the Obas's palace.

The question that springs to mind at once, is, ' What happened to these wonderful art pieces ?'.

The answer is that most of these beautiful art pieces are on display in British, German and American museums.

Till date, All efforts made to get the Iyoba mask which became the symbol of the African festival of arts and culture which was hosted in Lagos, Nigeria in 1977, and other equally elegant art works, such as this one above, returned to Nigeria, have proved unsuccessful.

Modern day bronzes

Today, the tradition of making bronze castings is alive and kicking at the famous Igun street, in the modern city of Benin,

Awesome bronze castings to say the least!

Which remains a haven of beautiful statues which can be seen in various parts of the city.

There is also a thriving art community at the University of Benin.

In addition, you can see the palace of the Oba of Benin which has been preserved


The Modern Day Palace of the Oba of Benin still retains many of its ancient features.

The ancient city of Benin before the punitive expedition

A thriving well planned city

from this pcture you can see that before the expedition in 1897, Benin city was a well planned and thriving city.

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    • tracy imevbore profile imageAUTHOR

      tracy imevbore 

      7 years ago from england

      many thanks

    • tracy imevbore profile imageAUTHOR

      tracy imevbore 

      7 years ago from england

      many thanks Ian

    • Admiral_Joraxx profile image

      Admiral_Joraxx 

      7 years ago from Philippines

      I say you have done a great job in this hub. I got to appreciate the uniqueness and beauty of african art, thanks to your hub. 1 vote up and beautiful.=)

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