Benin Bronze figures which served as royal ornaments are the indigenous cultural art of the Benin people in Edo State, Nigeria; dating back to as far as the 13th, 15th & 16th centuries.
Bronze casting in Edo was established in the 14th century by Oba Oguola. As a matter of fact it was only commissioned and used for royal affairs.
It is no secret that the Benin signature head bronze works were forcefully taken by the western imperialists.
Benin was an important empire in the history of Nigeria because it rose to international fame for its artworks which were exported to different parts of Europe and the rest of the world.
The Empire of Benin was a trading one that was highly organized and efficient. Benin was the first Nigerian territory that rivaled any contemporary European power in terms of governance and function.
The Benin Bronze figures are a significant cultural heritage in Nigeria. For instance, Nigeria used original mask head of the Queen Mother, Idia, during World Festival of Arts and Culture, FESTAC, in 1977.
History has it that the legendary Benin Bronze figures and sculptures were unduly taken and transported to Europe after an austere expedition during the colonial era, 1897 to be precise.
Many of these astounding metal works by way of imperialism found their way to other foreign countries – Europe most especially.
It is recorded that while an uncountable number was shipped off; some were “sold in the 1950s & 60s” and even till date are displayed in British Museums.
The ancient bronze casters of Benin, served an important capacity for the royalty. They could be described as the royal photographers and historians who documented important images and events for the Oba of Benin.
Through bronze casting, the casters could also relay/share coded massages to the Oba.
Few months ago, black Cambridge students demanded the school authorities to repatriate a bronze cockerel belonging to the ancient Benin empire back to the rightful owner.