Firstly, that the bronzes held in the production

Firstly, in order to fully comprehend the successive erasures and
singularizations that the Benin bronzes have underdone within western museum
history, it is important to understand the objects original function and
setting within their original place in time. The bronze plaques and pieces were
produced within the Benin Empire, with Benin City at its capital, between the
middle of the 16th century to the beginning of the 17th century (Eboreime,
2000). Today, the city is the capital of Edo state, Nigeria. The term ‘Benin
bronzes’ serve as a blanket term that corresponds with the appropriation of all
bronze ‘relics’ from the Benin royal court by British colonial forces in 1897
(Coombes, 1994). When specifically analysing the original function of the
bronze plaques within Benin society, Eboreime (2000) describes these objects
patronised by the Oba (or king), that held ideologies that are deeply connected
to Oba’s divine authority and relationship to the Edo nation.


The Oba patronises art through the
elaborate guild system in which the identity of the individual artist is
subsumed within the ideology of kingship, religion and the Edo nation. Bronze
is cast on the order of the Oba by the bronze casters guild Iguneronmwon,
headed by Chief Inneh, while the ivory and wood carvers were led by Eholor of
Iguosama( ‘God’s helpers in the process of creation’. (Eboreime, 2000)

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It is this monopolization of the bronze guild system by the Oba and
singularization of the bronzes as sacred objects that Kopytoff(1988) describes
as instances when ‘power’ asserts itself symbolically by asserting its right to
singularize an object. Kopytoff (1988) goes further to suggest”what these
monopolies clearly do, however is to expand the visible reach of sacred power
by projecting it onto additional sacralized objects.” Eboreime (2000) goes
further to describe the function that the bronzes held in the production of
knowledge and meaning within the Benin society.


Edo craftsmen and chiefs equate carvings and bronze castings to their
olden day’s photographs which narrate and commemorate scenes in Benin history.
Benin arts are primary vehicles for intellectual and aesthetic expression
serving the as visual metaphors, image texts and forms of unwritten
constitution regulating rituals, social and political relations between the
king, the priests and the people. (Eboreime, 2000)


Eboreime’s describes how the sacralization of the bronzes also
functioned as vehicles of upholding thesocial and cultural traditions within
Benin society. The bronze plaques captured and referenced specific cultural
rituals, stories and historical accounts that could be referenced and passed
from generation to generation.

              What this implies
is that within Benin society the original function of the bronze plaques served
as objects that were both patronised and sacralized by the Oba to extend his
sacred power, but also produced knowledge that served to reference and uphold
Edo rituals, history and tradition that could be capturedand passed on from
generation to generation. The status of the bronzes serve Kopytoff’s notion of
objects that make up the ‘symbolic inventory’ of a society, objects that are
‘publicly precluded’ from commoditization as they serve the symbolic status of
those in control (Kopytoff, 1988).Within the Oba’s Kingdom, the bronzes were
symbolic of both the Oba’s status as ruler that was interconnected to the
history, rituals and cultural practices that defined the Edo nation.