Court Dwarfs

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Benin Kingdom, Nigeria

Court Dwarfs, 14th/15th century

right: 59 x 25 x 18 cm (23 1/4 x 9 7/8 x 7 1/8 in.); left: 60 x 28 x 19 cm (24 x 11 x 7 1/2 in.)
Museum für Völkerkunde Wien, 64.743 and 64.745

Dwarfs have functioned as court jesters in Benin since the 15th century. Their responsibilities go beyond amusement to include the care of certain shrines, overseeing activities at the market, gathering information for the oba, and protecting him from deception and witchcraft. These highly individualized sculptures may be portraits, a rarity in Benin. It is tempting to speculate that they represent the two dwarfs who are recorded in Benin’s oral history, one associated with Oba Ewuare and the other with his son, Oba Ozolua.