MAf 11641

Please find more information about the object below the image.

Producer unknown to us

Medicine container (Ekpen)

Africa, Nigeria, former Kingdom of Benin

18th / 19th century


G. Willhöfft

Bought by the museum from Willhöfft in 1905

MAf 11641

The bronze leopard medicine container (ekpen) was exclusively produced for and used  by the Oba (King). The ekpen used as a receptacle for potions or placed on royal ancestral altars. It was used during royal ceremonies in the palace to signify the powers of the Oba and his position in the kingdom. The leopard is called ekpen n’oha in Edo language was regarded as a powerful animal and as the king of the forests in the former Benin Kingdom. Its stealth and power made it a symbol of qualities similar to those of the Oba. The animal's qualities were compared with the social and political powers of the Oba whose appellation is Ekpen-owa, the “home leopard.” As eloquently stated by Ndubuisi Ezeluomba Francoise Billoin Richardson, Curator of African Art at the New Orleans Museum of Art:

"For the Benin culture, the concept of nature and defining characteristics of animals function to establish the outer limits of humanity, such as the nonhuman and the supernatural." 

Today, these animals are no longer found in Benin’s forests. The brazen game-hunting post-1897 during the colonial era led to this. There are lessons to be garnered from ancient environmental practices that preserved these species for centuries.

Enotie Paul Ogbebor