Oba's Altar Tusk

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Edo, Court of Benin
Nigeria

Oba's Altar Tusk, 1850/1888

Ivory
150.5 x 195.6 x 12.7 cm (59 1/4 x 77 x 5 in.)
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Edwin Hokin, 1976.523

Ivory's white color evokes spiritual harmony for the Edo; thus, its presence enhances an altar's sanctity. Ivory’s important role as a commodity controlled by the oba also made it attractive for use on royal altars. Since the 18th century, oba’s altars have been embellished with matched pairs of carved elephant tusks, reflecting the increase in ivory’s value at that time. The tusks were anchored on brass commemorative heads. Oba Adolo commissioned this tusk in the mid-19th century for the altar of his father, Oba Osemwende. The iconography, which prominently features the fish-legged oba motif, honors the 15th-century ruler Oba Ewuare.

— Descriptive special exhibition text, Benin: Kings and Rituals