Benin Kingdom, Nigeria
Altar Figure of an Oba, 17th/18th century
H. 53.5 cm (21 in.)
Private collection, Obj: 189111
This refined figure features a rod that passes through it (now truncated). The oba holds an eben sword (also broken) in his right hand; his other hand is extended, suggesting the patting gesture he employs at Emobo, the final rite of the Igue festival that reinvigorates his spiritual powers. The motion calmly but firmly pushes unsettled spirits from the kingdom. Here, the movement may have prevented intrusive supernatural forces from stealing the sustenance that the altar provided for the oba’s deified ancestors.