Literary Sunday is dedicated to essays and arts that throw light on Christianity and its complexities in Africa.
And this Sunday, I got intrigued once again by Victor Ehihkamenor‘s art and short but deep Instagram caption.
Victor poses this question;
Was there a trace of Christianity in the Kingdom of Benin before the Portuguese arrived?
18 years after Michelangelo sculpted “The Pieta”, Oba Esigie, then monarch of the great Benin Kingdom and his Portuguese immigrants established the Holy Aruosa Cathedral in the heart of Benin City. The cross-cultural cum cross-religious intermingling began; so was the conundrum of what makes an altar piece and what’s enshrined in the shrine.
What is without a doubt though is the undying love between Queen Idia and her son, Oba Esigie. And one also wonders if Queen Idia held Esigie the way Mary once held her famous son in Michelangelo’s piece.
I first heard of Queen Idia on the day I printed out my accommodation form for the University of Ibadan. I was posted to QUEEN IDIA HALL. I got to find out that Queen Idia was a powerful woman.
Benin ivory mask representing Idia, court of Benin, 16th century (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York)
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 has been described as a great 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 30 kilometres (20 mi) away. Idia mobilised an army around Esigie at Unuame on the River Osse, which defeated Arhuaran, and Oba Esigie became the 16th king (Egharevba, 1968:26).
Benin ivory mask, with coral beads, representing Idia, court of Benin, 16th century (Linden Museum, Stuttgart)
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)
I’m certain Queen Idia held her son the way Mary held Jesus in the Michelangelo’s piece because a mother’s embrace is a constant.