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Staff showing a bird of prophesy
Edo peoples, Benin kingdom, Nigeria
Length x width: 32.4 x 12.1 cm (12 3/4 x 4 3/4 in.)
Medium or Technique
Benin Kingdom Gallery (Gallery 172)
This bird ornamented a longer staff used in an annual celebration of Oba Esigie’s (r. 1517-1550s) success against an invasion of Benin City. According to oral tradition, a bird predicted Oba Esigie’s defeat during the war with the neighboring kingdom of Idah (about 1515–17). Senior courtiers had also predicted that Esigie and his army would fail, and they determined not to support him. Esigie had the bird killed and used as a standard as he marched into battle. Despite the bird’s prophecy and the courtiers’ misgivings, his army conquered the enemy king. After the war, Esigie created the festival of Ugie Oro, where senior courtiers process through the city striking cast bronze birds like this one. The clanging sound echoes the pointless noise that the bird–and the courtiers–made when they doubted Esigie’s chances of success.
By 1984, Mathias Komor (dealer; d. 1984), New York; sold by Komor to Robert Owen Lehman; 2012, promised gift of Robert Owen Lehman to the MFA.
Robert Owen Lehman Collection