Bini – Benin
Polychromed wood, circa 1930
25 x 15 x 9cm
Bini, also called Edo people of southern Nigeria speak a language of the Benue-Congo branch of the Niger-Congo language family. The Edo numbered about 3.8 million at the turn of the 21st century, with their territory to west of the Niger River and extending from hilly country in the north to swamps in the Niger Delta. Edo is also the vernacular name for Benin City, the centre of the Benin kingdom, which flourished from the 14th to the 17th century. The name “Benin” (and “Bini”) is a Portuguese corruption, ultimately from the word “Ubinu”, which came into use during the reign of Oba Ewuare the Great, c. 1440. “Ubinu”, a Yoruba word meaning vexation, was used to describe the royal administrative centre or city or capital proper of the kingdom, Edo. Ubinu was later corrupted to Bini by the mixed ethnicities living together at the centre; and further corrupted to Benin around 1485 when the Portuguese began trade relations with Oba Ewuare. In the traditional religion of the Edo, there exists, besides the human world, an invisible world of supernatural beings acting as interceders for the human world.
The culture, religion and the social life of the Bini people primarily revolves around their ‘Ekpo cult’, within which ritual ceremonies and mask dances are performed. The masks for these dances have their own style, which is noticeably different from that of their larger neighbours, the Yoruba. They are typical in their distinct style of a striking flat, wide face together with the rim and parts of the hairstyle, often coloured in white kaolin. The slits for the eyes of the masked dancer lie near the lower centre of the face, next to the unconventionally formed, flat nose, that is dyed dark brown, as are also the small mouth, the chin and both sides of the beard. Above the white forehead protrudes a three-row ‘diadem’ formed from rectangles, carved in relief and also of dark brown colour.