Nok c500BCE-200CE
Ife 1100-1300 CE
Benin Art c1400-1800 CE

Nok Culture c500 BCE - 200 CE
Nok Head 500BCE - 200CE terracotta 14 in
Found by tin miners by a river bed
What is terra-cotta?
What is primitive?

Ife, Oba Figure 10th-12thC bronze/brass 18in
The Ife and Benin Cultures

Benin was originally a city but is now the capital of the Edo people.

Edo and Benin are often interchangable terms.

The Ife were probably the ancestors or even the same people as the Benin.

The Creation Legend of the Ife according to the Modern Day Yoruba

  • At Ife, the high god, Olorun, let his son Oduduwa down from heaven on a chain.
  • He had with him a handfull of earth, a palm nut, and a five toed cockeral.
  • Bird spread earth, he plants seeds and the world begins.
  • The branches represent Yoruba families.


The Legend revised by the Benin and Yoruba
  • Benin is founded by the Ife but there is fighting over who will rule.
  • King Oduduwa of Ife sends his son Oranmiyan son to resolve the dispute.
  • Oranmiyan married a Benin woman and their son is named Euware.
  • Euware becomes the King (Oba).
  • Euware is therefore responsible for bringing the metalworking technique from Ife.
  • "bronze" is actually brass (copper/zinc alloy)


Ife, Oba Figure 10th-12thC bronze/brass 18in
By the 16th C Benin controlled all the trade in Southern Nigeria

By the 1st BCE-3rdC CE Rome 
controlled most of the Aegean and Europe

Ife, Oba Figure 10th-12thC 
bronze/brass 18in

Modern Day Zaire, King in Full Regalia

Materials and Evolution

Greek, Archaic, 
Kouros Figure c600 BCE

Greek, Classic,
Polykleitos, Doryphoros c450BCE

Greek, Late Hellenistic, 
Praxiteles, Hermes and Dionysos c340BCE


Ife 13th Century

Benin 14th-15th Century

Benin 15th-16th Century

Benin 17th-19th Centuries


Ife, Head of an Oba King 13thC brass

Ife, Usurper Lajuwa c1200 terracotta 12in
Ife, Head of an Oba King 13thC brass

Greek Classic, Riace Warrior c450BCE 
detail of head

cire perdue (lost wax process)


Benin, General and Officers, c1550 brass 21in

Benin, Leopard 16th-18thC 19in

Mudfish Stool (above) Benin, Rattle Staff (at Left)
  • Go between land and water just like Olokon who mediates between the heaven and earth.
  • Edmund Leach
  • Life-size groups of royal figures in mud are still made for the cult of Olokun, divinity of the sea and of wealth.
  • Oni or Obas in the Yoruba culture are still buried today seated on stools.


Benin 15th-16th Century

Benin 17th-19th Centuries

Benin Palace Altar c1970

Benin, Oba 17th-19th Centuries


Benin, Queen Mother (Iyoba)
Hip Mask 9" ivory, iron, copper

Tell me what you know.