The object chosen to analyze from the Metropolitan Museum of Art is the Queen Mother Pendant Mask: lyoba. It was created in the 16th century in Nigeria at the Court of Benin and is classified as a bone/ivory-sculpture. The culture involved is the Edo peoples. The medium used is ivory, iron, copper with dimensions H. 9 3/8 x W. 5 x D. 3 1/4 in. (23. 8 x 12. 7 x 8. 3 cm). The accession Number is 1978. 412. 323. In simplistic terms the piece chosen is an ivory pendant depicting the image of the Queen Mother also known as an Iyoba. The piece has been kept up well besides the minor deterioration.
There are no drastic signs of damage or mistreatment. The bottom crown is broken in half on the left side and the left eye is missing the pupil. Asides from minor crack throughout the entire face it looks smooth. The piece is realistic partially because it is based upon an actual woman therefore the facial features, nose, eyes, mouth, and ears are in proportion with the head. There is also an actual opening for the nostrils on the nose and an opening for the mouth. There is also obsidian as the pupil creating a very realistic look against the ivory.
Similarly, the piece is realistic because there is also symmetry, which is shown through the facial features. There are more features shown on the piece then displayed in pictures, there are more rows behind the crown and a pattern below the chin. Differing from pictures seeing the piece in person shows that it not dense but lacking a back making it hollow. Additionally on the back there are two holes creating a place to put a string through. There is no movement throughout the piece, its stagnant. The expression of the Iyoba is fierce, she doesn’t look joyful there is also a sadness in her eyes.
Her stern expression and rigid lips shows that she is contemplating a crucial decision. She looks like she’s in deep thought. Her serious and composed arrangement displays the grand amount of power she exudes. The pendant is made out of ivory which is very difficult to carve making the intricate detail remarkable. The displays a plethora of symbolism. In the Benin society having elaborate or detailed work on the hair shows beauty. The crown around the top and the bottom depicts little Portuguese soldiers and mudfish. The mudfish lives in the sand and underwater in the mud.
It can | in outside the river on dry land and still breathe and also it can survive in the water. They are considered very miraculous because they can live in both conditions displaying that they are magical. The Benin believed that the Portuguese were supernatural. They associated the Portuguese with the mudfish considering them to be very powerful. Unlike other pieces of art the exact date is known, because of the level of importance the piece holds since it’s a representation of a person. The pendant is a depiction of the first queen mother, Idia.
Before she became a wife to the king he was fond of her. He was intrigued by her beauty, but she was not interested. She didn’t want to become one of his wives. Thus, she went to get scarification on her face to become unattractive. This is how the two rectangular grooves on her forehead on the pendant appeared. Despite her disfigurement the Oba still insisted on marrying her. Therefore, Idia became a queen mother by giving birth to the Oba’s first son. The idea of queen mothers did not exist until the fifteenth century.
According to tradition when the Oba died a conflict between his two sons who wanted the throne occurred. When the two brothers went to war Idia helped her son, Esigie during his time of weakness to win the war. It is said when her son couldn’t go on anymore she went into the battle field with the warrior in his place, which was very rare. Since men were since as the warriors and the women usually stayed home to take care of the children, Idia descending into battle went against generales. Idia going onto the battlefield exhibited the strength he held.
The iyoba often dressed in men’s clothing and decoration and wears the crown that a man would wear. She shifts and take on physical attributes of a man to become awarded with power. Before the fifteenth century it was “customary to behead the mothers of kings to prevent them from threatening the kingdom by using their magical powers to either initiate a rebellion and take over throne, or harm the people in some way through the use of witchcraft”1. The people of the Benin kingdom used to fear the Queen Mothers because of their special powers.
However, Esigie convinced the people of Benin to let his mother live to save the kingdom, but he had to stop all contact and never see her. This is where the tradition of the Queen Mother moving into her own palace developed. Throughout Benin women have a distinct role as a caretaker. Their prestige is” derived from her role as mother”2. Her main duty is to raise her children as best as possible and making sure they move forward. Being a matriarchal society a mother and child have very special bond. If her husband leaves her, she remains connected through her children.
Despite bearing children being the main role of women it is hardly seen in Benin art. The most frequently depiction of women is through the Queen mother, “whose status derives from female roles as wife and mother”2. Generally women don’t have a high position therefore, “The Iyoba embodies the possibilities for women to acquire wealth, prestige, influence and even immortality”2. It provides women a way to gain power and opportunities. A royal mother has much more responsibility than a common mother or even the mother of a European king.
The royal power is “inherent in a mother-son ‘royal duo”3. The monarchy itself involves not simply a King but rather a royal couple-the King and his mother”3. The mother is praised just as much as the King. She is given the same respect and has important duties similar to the King. The importance of the Queen mother is shown through the pendant since the King would keep it on his belt. In African society the mother of a King has more obligations than the mother in western culture.
In Europe the mother of the king “has no clear-cut constitutionally delineated functions to perform in state politics. 3, they are just a figurehead. However in Africa the queen mother there roles are ” distinct” and necessary. A queen mother being titled “do not perform their duties publically as their male counterparts , but carry them out secretly in the palace”3. A king can not proceed with his succession unless there’s an “installation of a King and his mother”3. The role of the mother is so important that her role has to be filled unless no one can take the throne. Becoming a queen mother is the epitome of power in West Africa Since the tome of power in west Africa.
Since the future Oba is chosen from the sons of the king’s current wives there is grave “competition”1 to become queen mother. Choosing a queen mother is important because she uses her special powers to help her son resulting in a prosperous reign. A queen mother’s isn’t determined until her son is king but it’s believed that its her destiny and decided even ” before she is born”1. Giving birth to the next Oba is a combination of both “destiny and individual effort”1. Many girls are given to the king as a wife but the one who bears the first son become the queen mother.
Her only concern is to raise him and provide him with guidance until his reign. The Queen Mother pendant has a lot of significance since it represents the first queen mother who helped her son save the kingdom. After her success the mother of the king became an important duty for women and a job of prestige. To honor the original Queen Mother the pendant is worn by the current Oba on his neck or on his belt. It meant to be a reflection of his mother. It is only worn on special occasions since it is a very precious piece.