Altar Figure of an Iwoki Guild Member


Early breach-loading cannons were first acquired from the Portuguese in the late 15th century. During the reign of Oba Esigie (c.1504-1550) the guild of weather diviners and astrologers Iwoki, attached to the Iwebo palace society, was made responsible for cannons and guns. Dutch merchants began to sell flintlock guns to the Oba of Benin in the seventeenth century. This commemorative figure of an Iwoki guild member with flintlock gun reflects a part of the highly organized military system that allowed the Edo kingdom to become one of the most powerful West African states. This work was purchased in April 1898 from Dr Felix Roth, surgeon to the Advance Guard with the British forces that attacked and looted Benin in February 1897. Dr Roth would have taken it as his portion of the unofficial loot, which the British officers who participated in the military attack on Benin shared out among themselves in February 1897.