MAf 34575 a, b

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Producer unknown to us

Kola-nut vessel (Okpan Évbé)

Africa, Nigeria, former Kingdom of Benin

18th century

Ivory, carved

Hans Meyer (colonial geographer, publisher) purchased the container from the British ethnographic dealer William Downing Webster from 1898 onwards

Loaned by Meyer between 1900–1919, from 1929 permanent loan by Elisabeth Meyer, purchased from Meyer's heirs in 2001

MAf 34575 a, b

Prior to colonization, the Kingdom of Benin was divided into districts, dukedoms, villages and towns with the centre of power in the Palace of the Oba, the King of Benin. All the land within the first ring of the great Benin moats was reserved solely for the Oba; only he could be buried there for instance. In former times, he would usually remain within the realm of the 'Ogbe' and chiefs would visit for consultations and meetings in the palace. The King would only leave the Obge in times of war, ceremonies, or royal visits.

The kola-nut vessel made of ivory, has a floral design on its cover. Any important visitor was welcomed with kola nuts. It was expected of the guest to take a kola nut and say a prayer. Thereafter, the nuts were broken into bits to be shared with the host, who would also take a piece and say a prayer. The vessel with its elaborate carvings stands for the social graces practiced in the Kingdom of Benin. Ivory was reserved for the Oba, which means that this vessel was part and parcel of court life.

Enotie Paul Ogbebor