Ceremonial Sceptre or Staff (Ethnology)


This carved ivory staff head depicts a mounted war chief in ceremonial battle dress. A medicine container is shown attached to his chest armour for added protection during battle. This staff head may have been part of the regalia of an Iyase and would have served as an emblem of his rank as the most important titled chief in Benin, who, before the 18th century, also acted as a powerful military commander in times of war. The head of the horse has been mended with a rivet that goes through the horse's body, which demonstrates that the staff head would have been a valued item of regalia, preserved and repaired from generation to generation. This staff head was purchased from the well-known dealer William Downing Webster. Many of the ivory and brass works from Benin that Webster sold to museums from 1898 to 1901 were purchased either from auctions or directly from British soldiers who took part in the British military assault against Benin in February 1897.