Oba's Shirt (Ewu Ivie N'ovien Iye)

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Benin Kingdom, Nigeria

Oba's Shirt (Ewu Ivie N'ovien Iye), 18th/19th century

Coral, agate, and copper
71 x 65 cm (28 x 25 5/8 in.)
The Trustees of the British Museum, London, Af1944,04.63

Mediterranean coral was among the earliest commodities brought to Benin by Portuguese merchants in the late 15th century. Coral’s hard surface and deep red color appealed to the already established Edo appreciation for red stones such as agate and jasper, which had long been imported from North Africa and made into beads. When worn in abundance, coral regalia make a spectacular impression. Netted garments such as shirts, aprons, skirts, and even full-length robes are worn over white cloth. Crowns may be simple in design or more highly elaborate. The oba's beaded regalia also include collars, bracelets, sashes, belts, anklets, and shoes.