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Queen Idia: Iyoba of Edo State

The Iyoba, commonly referred to as Queen Mother, of Benin is an important female titleholder in the chieftaincy system of the Kingdom of Benin, a Nigerian traditional state. Queen Idia was the first Queen Mother of Benin.

The kingdom of Benin (present-day Nigeria) was plunged into a state of turmoil at the end of the 15th century when the Oba (king) Azalea died and left two powerful sons to dispute succession. His son Esigie controlled Benin City, while another son, Arhuaran, was based in the equally important city of Udo about twenty miles away. The civil war severely compromised Benin’s status as a regional power and undermined Benin City’s place at the political and cultural center of the kingdom. Exploiting this weakness, the neighboring Igala peoples sent warriors across the Benue River to wrest control of Benin. Esigie ultimately defeated his brother and conquered the Igala. His mother Idia received much of the credit for these victories as her political counsel, alongside her mystical powers and medicinal knowledge. To reward and honor her, Esigie created a new position within the court called the Iyoba, or Queen Mother, which gave her significant political privileges, including a separate residence with its own staff.

The two vertical bars of inlaid iron between the eyes allude to medicine-filled incisions that were one source of Idia’s metaphysical power. Within the court, the queen mother’s political status was equal to that of a senior chief, and she enjoyed the right to commission precious works of art for personal and devotional use. 

This piece was created in honor of her legacy using a 3D printed Zulu hat, mannequin parts, braiding hair, cowries, amethyst and more.

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