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ORIGIN OF BRASS WORK IN BENIN

Last Update (November 8, 2018)

The method of brass casting or lost Wax techniques has been practiced in many parts of the World, Africa, West Africa and Egypt before Christ. It was the method where bronze statutes were made in antiquity. This method was said to have been invented by two sculptors of Semos in Greece. They were Rhoecus and Theodorus in 16th century B.C. But this art again was said to have been existing in Egypt, where many brass casting of hollow persist, before it was introduced to Greece.
Bronze Caster at work in Benin City
The method or bronze casting was introduced to Igodomigodo (Benin) during the reign of Ogiso Uwa (767 821 A D). His daughters were said to use brass for decorating and adoring themselves. It is said that the obtained the materials for brass through ldah Idoma, Tada in Nupe. the far North Africa in the regions of North West Mauritanian, South Morocco, Byzantine Empire and the central Europe.Copper or bronze not found in present day Nigeria were brought from
these areas At this period, there were many caravan traders in West Africa. The Edo people called them Ekhen Eki Egbo or Ekhen Urria. The market flourished and this period, there were chiefs who were responsible for these caravan markets, through which brass materials also exchanged hands in some of the transactions.

In about 1280 A.D. Oba Oguola was said to have sent to the Ooni of (Uhe) lfe. According to (J.U. Egharevba) applying for someone to come to teach the Bínis how to Cast brass, and a man called lgueghae was sent to Benin. How true this tradition was, no one could claim, although it. has gained a wide currency both by foreign and Nigerian writers as a reference.

But as archeological investigations and comparative studies continued, more rational interpretations will emerge. It has been argued by many eminent writers about the authenticity of the Ife teaching Benin the art of bronze casting. It is not  sufficient to say because many terra-cottas have been found in Ife, therefore they taught the Binis the art of brass casting.

Dr. J.U. Egharevha a curator and a Benin historian no doubt, worked with WiIlet. K.C. Murray, Fagg ‘and many others but the tradition has not yielded very definitive conclusions on Edo art-history because only a limited scope of excavations had been done so far by Connah (1975).

Leo Frobenius who was archaeologist discovered in 1910 and 1911 many terra-cotta at Ife. Some of the findings can be compared with those of the ancient Egypt, Classical Greece or Rome and Renaissance Europe. The finds in ife too is like the Nok and that of Igbo-Ukwu. It has been difficult to identify the very artists that made these bronze works that were dug out at Ife and Igbo-Ukwu.

The questions that still remain unsolved today by historians and archaeologists are: (a) Who were the artistes that made the Ife brass work? (b) Were they ancestors of the present inhabitants of Ife? (c) Did they belong to quite another people? (D) When and precisely did this art flourish? (e) One may like to know whether the art precede or follow the establishment of the dynasty of Oduduwa (f) what the relationship between this arts, the art of the Yoruba in particular and other neighbours of Yoruba in West Africa in general?

It has been reliably discovered that most of the findings in Ife. Seemed to have been brought from elsewhere, they seen to have been neither understood nor much valued at Ife before the present century. They also seem not to bear real relationship to the myths and  legends associated with Ododuwa dynasty or Yoruba religion compared with that of Benin.

The art of Ife unlike that of Benin and Dahomey for example, does not seem to depict actual events. No recollection of any time about them exists in Ife today of the intricate Iost wax technique by which ah the numerous bronze were cast. This tradition is still carried on in Benin.

No tradition has any light upon the Ife introduction, or whence it came as we can now trace that of Benin, what has happened to these Ife artists, who were invited to teach the Binis brass casting, because brass casting is not in existence today in Ife. No group, no individual is practicing it at Ife. This is not a culture that can die out easily if the people are still alive as the Ife people today. Why has the culture died and perished whereas the Ooni and the people are still alive with their kingship culture.

Unless these questions are answered, a serious art historian may find it very difficult to believe the story that Igueghae was a Yoruba man from lfe who taught Benin the art of bronze casting in 1280 A.D whereas brass has been in existence in Benin during Ogiso Uwa about (767 - 821 A.D).

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