Overall: 36.2 x 9.9 cm (14 1/4 x 3 7/8 in.)
James Albert Ford Memorial Fund 1938.5
An image of the ahianmwẹn-ọrọ (bird of prophecy) once sat atop the roof of the palace in the Benin Kingdom.
Courtiers, priests, and senior chiefs strike instruments like this during the Ugie Ọrọ festival. The long-legged metal bird refers to the 16th-century ruler Ọba Ẹsigie. Wings outstretched with long, textured feathers, it is the ahianmwẹn-ọrọ (bird of prophecy). It stares outward, a likely magical substance clenched in its beak. Such a bird prophesied Ẹsigie’s defeat and death during the Idah War (about 1515–17), leading his people to resist fighting for him. When Ẹsigie triumphed, bronze bird effigies were beaten for days on end throughout the year. This punished the false avian prophet and shamed the cowardly men.
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