Africa’s Art: Kingdom of Benin’s Plaques

The extraordinary plaques of the Kingdom of Benin. They once used to decorate the palace of the Oba (King) in Benin City, the capital of the Benin (Edo) Kingdom (in modern southern Nigeria). It is believed that around 900 plaques were created. These 16th Century Plaques are 500 years old. The artists would have had to make and fire a clay mould and melt the metals to pour into it – incredibly difficult skill to master. The combination of relatively sophisticated scientific and artistic accomplishment baffled most European 19 Century observers. They couldn’t believe that the so called primitive Africans could develop this level of artefacts.

The British established a trade agreement with Benin but Benin later reneged on it. A British delegation  ignored a warning not to approach the Oba and when they did, the delegation was massacred leaving two survivors from the 200 delegation.

In February 1897, 1200 British soldiers arrived and the city was razed to the ground. At the royal palace they found artefacts they could not believe existed. Over 2000 pieces were taken and distributed around Europe. The Oba was deposed and died in exile.

Watch and listen to the video and discover the history of what used to be the Kingdom of Benin and the West African Kingdoms that created these works – where did they get the technology, where did they find the materials to create such scientifically superior artefacts….

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