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Modern copy of a wall plaque similar to those hung in the king’s (Oba’s) palace in Ancient Benin to record historical events. Final cast with no wooden base.

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1 item (description level: part)
Broad category
Education Handling Collection: Anthropology, How things are made
Additional names, titles, or classifications
catalogue name:  plaque
object name (Horniman Ethno.):  plaque

Nigeria, West Africa; Africa
Additional place information
made or collected:  Nigeria 
Additional culture information
Edo  (Nigeria)

Materials & techniques
Additional material & technique information
material: bronze (overall)
overall: 310 x 270 x 70 mm
Additional measurement information
overall: 310 x 270 x 70 mm

Modern copy of a wall plaque similar to those hung in the king’s (Oba’s) palace in Ancient Benin to record historical events. How is it used? Brass Plaques were used in Ancient Benin to make a permanent record of the important people and events in the history of the kingdom. They were displayed on the walls of the palace of the King (or Oba). They were created by master craftsmen appointed by the King. Who by and why them? The people of Ancient Benin are well known for their Brass/Bronze casting techniques and used these skills to make artefacts that recorded important people and events in their history. In Edo, the language of Ancient Benin, the ‘to remember’ (sa-e-y-ama) literally means 'to cast a motif in Bronze’. The Edo language was only spoken and not written so metal casting was an important way of recording their history. The plaques show past Kings, merchants, warriors, chiefs and famous priests. They recorded events, stories, trade arrangements, triumphs and victories. The brass and bronze casters who produced work commissioned by the king belonged to a guild and came under the control of the Iwebo palace association. This association was in charge of the regalia and belongings of the king. The Iwebo was led by a high ranking palace chief. Such plaques hung on the walls of the Royal Palace and many were removed when the British Army captured Benin City in 1897. This plaque shows soldiers from the Benin army in West Africa. The central character (either an Oba or the lyase - commander-in-chief for the Benin army) carries a ceremonial sword called an eben and has a pyramid shaped bell around his neck. The soldiers have leopard designs on their uniforms, a symbol of the strength and power of the Oba and leopard teeth necklaces. A Portugese musketeer (holding a gun) wearing a triangular hat with a feather can be seen in the top left hand corner. The Portugese travelled to Benin from the 15th century, bringing brass as a currency to trade with. Water is an important theme in Benin culture - the Bini people as they were known, is Portugese for 'water dweller'. The Bini soldiers all wear beads made from sea coral and the flower designs on the background are of water hyacinths. This cast is part of a series made for the Horniman Museum Education Department in 1998 to show how brass plaques are made using the lost wax process. So it was made for educational purposes.
This plaque is the final stage in a method of brass casting called sing the 'Lost Wax ' process, sometimes also known as the 'Cire Perdu’ process. This method of casting uses a clay mould to make an object. Although this is an ancient process it is still practised today. A wax model is covered in clay which is then fired in a kiln. During firing the wax melts leaving a clay mould which is later filled with molten metal. This plaque was made for the museum in 1998 by John Ihama of 30 Igun Street in Benin City. To make a plaque out of brass, the brass caster (the person who makes the plaque), first makes the picture out of wax. Firstly, they make a base out of soft clay with the basic shapes on it. When this has hardened, they add soft wax to make the more detailed shapes of the picture, using wooden tools to craft the fine details. When the wax has dried, they add more soft clay on top so that the wax is covered, being careful not to break the wax, a hole is left at the top. Wire is wound around the 'parcel' to hold it together. This clay 'parcel' is left to dry and then put in a fire, called a furnace. The wax melts and is poured out of the hole at the top, leaving a gap inside the clay 'parcel'. Brass metal is heated until it turns to liquid and is poured in the hole to fill the space left by the wax. When this cools and hardens, which can take as long as a week, the clay is broken off. The brass plaque is inside and will look just like the wax picture. The plaque is then cleaned and polished.

Further reading
Ben-Amos, Paula. 1980. The art of Benin. London: Thames & Hudson (discusses similar)
Duchateau, Armand. 1994. Benin: Royal art of Africa from the Museum für Völkerkunde, Vienna. Munich: Prestel, 1994. (discusses similar)

Related objects
similar:  plaque; casting; stage of manufacture
similar:  plaque (art)
similar:  head
similar:  figure (communication artefact)
similar:  figure (communication artefact); single figure (figure (art))
similar:  figure (communication artefact); single figure (figure (art))
similar:  figure (ritual & belief: representations)
Related subjects
association: Africa
place: Ezomo Agban
classified as: Edo
object name (Horniman Ethno.): plaques
material: plaques

Record created 1999-08-07 by EOWEN
Record last updated 2018-01-03 by TWHITBREAD