Benin Kingdom, Nigeria
Plaque of Oba Ozolua with Warriors and Attendants, 16th/17th century
38.5 x 39 x 2 cm (15 1/8 x 15 3/8 x 4/5 in.)
Museum für Völkerkunde Wien, 64.717
Oba Ozolua, at center, is depicted wearing a garment of overlapping leaf- or feather-shaped plates, possibly an alternative interpretation of his protective coat of iron. Snakes—which Olokun, the god of the waters, sent to guard the divine leader—run down the garment’s torso and arms. In his right hand, Ozolua holds an eben sword, a symbol of leadership. In his left hand, he grasps a spear that is also held by his trusted friend Laisolobi, who ultimately betrayed him in order to free his exhausted soldiers. This story teaches that the abuse of power can be the downfall of even the strongest and most influential leaders.