MAf 34565

Please find more information about the object below the image.

Producer from the Igun eronmwon guild unknown to us

Idiophone (ahianmwe-oro)

Africa, Nigeria, former Kingdom of Benin

17th to 19th century


Hans Meyer (colonial geographer, publisher) purchased the bronze 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 34565

The ahianmwe-oro, the idiophone of bronze, dates back the early 16th century when Oba (King) Esigie commissioned his bronze casters to make a bronze cast of the prophetic bird as a percussion staff idiophone. When Oba Esigie was marching up north from Benin with his army towards Idah, a bird with a long beak regarded as a bird of prophecy is said to have cried "oyao,” which means “disgrace.” The soldiers understood this cry as a warning of impending defeat. The King, however, responded by saying “Ne o yha yin agbon, I danmwe eho ahianmwen no tie oyao,” “the person who wants to inhabit this earth does not listen to a bird crying ‘disgrace.’” After Oba Esigie defeated the Idah and Igala, he commissioned the bronze casters to cast the bird with its long beak and instituted the Oro-festival, during which the Oba and his chiefs struck with a brass beater on the beak. Evidence of the prophetic bird can be found on some of the ancient bronze plaques.

The fact that the identity of the bird species of the ahianmwen-oro is not known today is a cause for worry for environmentalists. Today the forests have been severely decimated and entire species have gone extinct. The environmental implications for species going extinct is a frightening reality. It is argued by some academics that the bird depicted might have been the West African Pied Hornbill. This evokes an examination of how people of Benin used to live according to a system of rules and taboos that regulated hunting and farming to preserve regeneration and continuity of life for centuries, and to reflect upon the lessons that can be drawn for today.

Enotie Paul Ogbebor