THE BRONZE CAST AND THE BENIN ROYALTY

Among the ancient cities of Nigeria, the kingdom of Benin happens to be one whose history is well documented. Benin-MaskThe powerful ancient Benin kingdom was founded by the son of an Ife king in the early 14th century A.D. The Benin kingdom is situated in Edo state and governed by an Oba (king).

It is believed that somewhere around the end of the fourteenth century, the Oba of Benin at that time sent for a bronze-smith from Ife, to teach his people how to make these heads. The man sent is said to have been named Igueghae.

This was the beginning of bronze casting in the kingdom. Their tradition holds that these great Benin artisans refined their technique until they were able to cast plaques an eighth-of-an-inch thick, surpassing the art as practiced by Renaissance “masters” in Europe.

The bronze casters and other crafts people who produced ivory, wood sculptures, embroidered textiles, as well as astrologers, leopard hunters and drummers lived in the Oba’s palace.

The Benin  royalties were adorned with numerous commemorative brass heads, plaquettes worn on the belt as emblem of offices and jewelry which were produced by the guild of artisans. commemorative brass heads, free-standing figures and groups, chest in the shape of palaces, animal, e.t.c. were also created for the royal palace.

The brass heads were placed on the thrones of kings, of brass caster corporation chiefs and dignitaries. occasionally,  a brass head was surmounted by a carved ivory tusk engraved with a procession of different Oba’s.

The representation of these objects served above all to exalt the king, queen mother, the princes and royal household, army commanders, shown with their arms and armors and their retainers (huntsmen, musicians), or alternatively depicted important events.p02mmb6q

The process of bronze casting requires great skill and specialization. Materials required for the casting of bronze are red sand, bees wax, the bronze and a furnace.

Red sand is mixed with water, turning it into mud. The mud is shaped into the image intended to be cast, this image is called the coil. The coil is then left to dry and the covered with bee wax.

More red mud is used to cover the bee wax. A runner, through which the liquid hot bronze will pass, is attached and left to dry. After the outside covering dries, a copper wire is wrapped around it to keep it firm during heating.

In order to prevent the copper wire from melting away during heating, more mud is used to cover the wire and allowed to dry. The entire contraption is then put in the furnace and fired to a very high degree.

At such high temperature, the wax melts completely leaving a hollow in the mud which will receive the melted bronze. Simultaneously, the bronze is heated separately till it melts and looks like kerosene.p02mmwhl

The mould is then removed from the fire and the melted bronze is poured in to the hollow part of the mould through the runner. The mould is kept and allowed to cool.

By the time the mould cools down, it is broken and the bronze work is removed, cleaned and dressed.

The bronze art of Benin is without a doubt predominantly a royal art. Apart from smaller items of adornment, such as the hip masks for the chief ceremonial dress, no bronze casting could be commissioned by anyone except the Oba, unless his exbenin3press consent was given.

So when next you visit the Benin kingdom, try and visit the Oba. I am sure he would tell the craftsmen to make you a special bronze artifact.

 

 

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