The Oba (King) was at the heart of Benin City rule, supported by a number of warriors and chiefs that helped with the protection and management of the kingdom respectively. To highlight the various roles and ranks held in court, the chiefs and warriors wore official elements in their costumes given to them by the Oba. Uhunmwun ekue brass and ivory pendants are one such costume element, worn at an angle (or horizontally) on the left hip, taking the form of different shapes (including human, ram, crocodile, baboon or leopard heads).
War officers and distinguished warriors were given leopard shaped pendants as a sign of their role in battle but also as a sign that the Oba had given then the right to take life or to impose the death penalty. They were also believed to be protective instruments in the war field. The Oba also wore multiple leopard pendants as part of his royal regalia but his were carved from ivory instead of the standard brass / copper alloy heads given to warriors.
NOTE: Several Southern Nigerian cultures also produced brass hip pendants but it is believed that only 50 Benin City leopard head ornaments survive today1.
Common features among all uhunmwun ekue pendants:
Sub-type variations (Leopard):