Leopard Hip Ornament, 18th century
Nigeria, West Africa, Benin Kingdom
8 1/2 x 5 7/8 x 3 1/4 in. (21.6 x 14.9 x 8.3 cm)
Image: Allen Memorial Art Museum website
Decorative elements reflected the ranks of those in the Benin Kingdom (15th-19th c.) The oba, divine ruler, was the only one who had the right to take human life, and the leopard was his symbol. Details of this particular mask clearly define it as being from Benin. It is fascinating that the details of the ornament, size of leopard spots, can determine its origin.
"The leopard was, and is, a widespread symbol of authority and rulership in southern Nigeria, conferring by association the animal's characteristic beauty and elegance, as well as its deadliness, speed, and surety, upon the wearer." (AMAM website)