Benin Kingdom, Nigeria
Plaque of Three Traders from Benin, 16th/17th century
48 x 35 cm (18 7/8 x 13 3/4 in.)
The Trustees of the British Museum, London, Af1898,0115.77
The helmets worn by these men and the staff held by the central figure, which is surmounted by the head of a crocodile biting a fish, are emblems of the royal guild of traders. Fittingly, the crocodile, an animal that inhabits both water and land, is associated with the Portuguese, who likewise traversed both terrains. Crocodiles are also emblematic of Olokun, the god of the waters. The two flanking figures hold manillas, rings of brass, bronze, or copper that were an important form of currency along Africa’s west coast.