Friday, December 12, 2008

Idia thrives!

Idia, the 16th century mother of Oba Esigie, has been put to a new use. Lauded for her devotion and intelligent scheming to put her son on the throne, she is remembered as both warrior and witch. Now her powers are being brought to bear on the trafficking of women from Edo State to Europe for prostitution, particularly prostitution in northern Italy, where they are disproportionately a part of street life. This UN-sponsored poster is directed toward the trade in girls, although it and other public campaigns imply that overseas prostitution involves helpless girls who were deceived. While this may happen in some cases, many all-too-aware girls and even some married women eagerly "apply" to the madames who promise visas and dangle the hope of ready foreign exchange before them. They even swear oaths in Nigeria before leaving, pledging to faithfully fulfill their "contracts."

While they may not realize all the degradations that lay ahead, many have their eyes wide open when they make this choice. They are usually unaware, however, that the madames will make them repay every penny of their ticket, clothing, etc. with heavy interest, and that they will be on their backs to also pay for their accommodation, feeding, etc. Those who go ahead are willing to do so because there are few employment possibilities, and they see visiting "Italian women" flaunting their gold, building fabulous homes, and driving flashy cars during the holidays.

NGOs are trying to create more opportunities at home to discourage this flesh trade, and Idia has now been suborned to draw her iron brows together. She apparently frowns on Edo girls who abandon traditional values as homemakers and providers through legal trade, and it will be interesting to see how successful her role in the campaign will be. For more information, see the UNICRI website at

Saturday, December 6, 2008

The Moon! A response to Hannah

Hannah played the "Benin Degrees of Separation" game and challenged me to connect Benin to the moon (join the challenge and send your demands!). Well, there are several possibilities...some Edo names refer to it, like Osayuki ("God created the moon").

In crescent form, it appears on the corners of some plaques, and also appears as one of many wrapper motifs on bronze objects. Today it is most commonly seen in thing brass forms on high-ranking chiefs' palace attire, along with triangular-rayed sun disks. Together the sun and the moon are a protective charm, especially for warriors or anyone embarking on a dangerous enterprise. Both faithfully reappear, unharmed, each night or day. So will the intrepid safely return from their battles.

More requests, please!

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Intrepid Fighters

Image is everything. Not an Edo proverb, but it might have been. These two 16th century heads from Philadelphia's Penn Museum are high-ranking war victims, either rulers or generals. Made from a copper alloy, they were permanent representations of specific victories. The conquerors appeared in only a handful of contemporary plaques actually engaged in war. Instead, they usually showed themselves in full ceremonial dress at a war festival, not engaged in sweaty combat, but splendid as victors.

Like disdainful conquistadors, they were secure in their position--so much so that they could afford to honor the defeated with precious metal and depictions of coral necklaces. Generals were stars when at home in Benin City, surrounded by cheering crowds and their entourages, encouraged by musicians and acclaim. The stress of the battlefield behind them, bloody memories were converted into beauty.