Commemorative Altar Tusk



This tusk was charred during the great fire started by the British forces occupying Benin in 1897. The tusk may have come from an altar commissioned by Oba Ovonramwen at the start of his reign in 1888 to honour his father and predecessor Oba Adolo (museum correspondence with Barbara Blackmun). The tusk was sold to the museum by Ernest Ballard in 1944 together with a smaller piece of carved tusk (44.7b) that may or may not have originally been part of it. Ernest Ballard does not seem to have had military connections and it is not yet known how he acquired carved tusks from Benin. The images of animals like the leopard, crocodile and mudfish carved on this commemorative tusk may have served to reflect the spiritual sources of Oba Adolo's power and wealth.