WHAT THE BENIN BRONZE PLAQUES LITERALLY SIGNIFY

A Portuguese Soldier PlaqueThe Benin  bronze plaques were not just ornamental objects made for decorative or adornment purposes, but were, during the former times, also crafted to serve as a record of notable court and societal events and ceremonies for both present and future generation. The portrayal of various court and societal events, ceremonies and festivals of the Benin kingdom centuries ago, are still evident in the Benin bronze plaques. In Keeping with the need to still preserve time-honoured records of the Benin Kingdom, and in accordance with the standard texts, contemporary Benin bronze casters have had to replicate or make replicas of these bronze plaques, both in their new and old forms.

According to the World  Book Encyclopedia Dictionary,  Plaques are ornamental tablets of metal, porcelain, etc., intended to be hung up as a wall decoration, to be inserted in a piece of furniture.  Similarly, Wordweb defines it as an inscribed metal or stone plate attached to a wall used to mark a notable person or event, or as a memorial. As a part of its ornamental use, there are quite a number of plaques used to decorate or beautify the wooden columns  or pillars that support the roofs of the Oba’s palace.

The Benin bronze plaques may well have been a child of necessity, given the period of its flowering. A period which spanned the latter part of the 16th century and most part of the 17th century, during which it is said that the plaques were first made. A preliterate or non-literate society where plaques represented the only viable means the Bini people could keep a record of their past.

Benin Bronze Plaques
A Portuguese And His Manservant Plaque (Relief)

The coming of the Portuguese with their brass manillas somewhat broadened the horizon of Benin bronze casting as the raw materials became plenteous enough for the Benin artists to invent new artistic forms. It has been said that the rectangular shape of the plaques which are not so common in African arts except in some sculpted doors, is based on the pictures the Bini saw in the European books that were brought by the Portuguese. And It was likely that the Bini wanted to replicate the European book with its pictorial representations. This explains why there are several depictions of the Portuguese in the Benin bronze plaques.

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