Box in the Shape of an Antelope Head (Orievbee)

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Benin Kingdom, Nigeria

Box in the Shape of an Antelope Head (Orievbee), 18th century

Ivory and brass
16.5 x 29 x 11.5 cm (6 1/2 x 11 3/8 x 4 1/2 in.)
Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Ethnologisches Museum, III C 7633 a, b

Boxes shaped like antelope heads are usually made of wood embellished with brass sheeting. This ivory example, inlaid with brass, is unique and undoubtedly belonged to the oba. Antelope-head boxes are used as containers for kola nuts, a symbol of peace, order, and civilization that is offered to welcome honored guests. The kola nuts are broken into segments and shared among the guests by rank followed by a prayer of blessing. The antelope is appreciated for its beauty and gentleness. The hands that grasp its horns symbolize the privilege taken by humans to sacrifice the animal in sacred rituals.