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Memorial Tusk


Memorial Tusk
Memorial Tusk
Memorial Tusk
Late 18th-early 19th century
(Kingdom of Benin)
Miscellaneous Works of Art Fund

Key Ideas
Discussion Questions

In the 16th century the oba of Benin died without any heirs, and the once-powerful kingdom of Benin was plunged into a century of chaos. A series of kings claimed the right to rule but failed to hold the kingdom together. Rebel chiefs fought to gain control of the weak kingship. Then a wise oba restored order to the kingdom, but not without making enemies.

Listen to Story of Ezomo Ehenua and Iyase n'Ode, 3:30 minute duration (763 KB AIFF)

Iyase n'Ode (ee-YAH-say en Oh-day), a particularly ambitious town chief and one of the oba's two military commanders, rebelled against the oba. The evil chief continued to make trouble in the kingdom by siding with the jealous rival brother of the next ruler, Oba Akenzua (ah-ken-ZOO-ah) I.

Iyase n'Ode was extremely powerful because he had the ability to turn himself into an elephant. It took the strength and wisdom of another military commander, the Ezomo Ehenua (ee-ZOH-moh ee-he-NEW-ah), to finally defeat Iyase n'Ode and save the kingdom. In honor of this victory, Oba Akenzua I made the title of ezomo, or palace chief, hereditary. Today, Benin ezomos proudly trace their heritage to the historical hero Ezomo Ehenua.1

1 This account is based largely on Paula Ben-Amos, The Art of Benin (London: Thames and Hudson, 1980) pp. 32-34. Return to Text

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