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.

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