Ceremonial Armlet


This brass armlet may have been made for an Oba. It is decorated with leopard and crocodile heads and rows of Portuguese and Edo heads. The leopard is considered the most powerful animal in the forest, while the crocodile holds a similar position in the water. Both may be used as emblems of royal authority. The Portuguese were the first Europeans to trade with the Edo Kingdom when they arrived in 1484. Portuguese traders rarely visited Benin after 1550, but figures and heads of Portuguese men in sixteenth-century dress continued to be depicted in Benin court art to stand for Europeans in general and for the sources of wealth and power that the Oba acquired from across the ocean through foreign trade. This armlet was purchased in April 1898 from Henry Ling Roth, curator of the Bankfield Museum in Halifax, who probably acquired it from his brother Dr Felix Roth. Dr Roth was surgeon to the Advance Guard with the British forces that attacked and looted Benin in February 1897.