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Pendant Mask: Iyoba, 16th century, Nigeria; Edo, Court of Benin Ivory, iron, copper (?); H. 9 3/8 in. (23.8 cm), Metropolitan Museum of Art
Queen Idia was the mother of Esigie, the Oba of Benin who ruled from 1504 to 1550. She played a very significant role in the rise and reign of her son. She was a strong warrior who fought relentlessly before and during her son’s reign as the Oba (king) of the Edo people. When Oba Ozolua died, he left behind two powerful sons to dispute over who would become Oba. His son Esigie controlled Benin City while another son, Arhuaran, was based in the equally important city of Udo about twenty miles away. Idia mobilised an army around Esigie, which defeated Arhuaran, and Oba Esigie became the 16th king.
Subsequently, the neighboring Igala peoples sent warriors across the Benue River to wrest control of Benin’s northern territories. Esigie conquered the Igala, reestablishing the unity and military strength of the kingdom. His mother Idia received much of the credit for these victories as her political counsel, together with her magical powers and medicinal knowledge, were viewed as critical elements of Esigie’s success on the battlefield.
Idia became the first Iyoba (Queen Mother) of Benin when Esigie conferred upon her the title and the Eguae-Iyoba (Palace of the Queen Mother).
Bronze commemorative head of Queen Idia held by the British Museum
Idia: The First Queen Mother of Benin at the Metropolitan Museum of Art
Pendant Mask: Iyoba, 16th century