Uhunmwun Elao (Ancestral Memorial Head)


By: Adenike Cosgrove Tagged:


Unlike the copper alloy heads cast for Oba and Iyoba ancestors, terracotta heads (uhunmwun elao) are created to commemorate deceased, brass-casters of the Edo kingdom.

After the death of a caster, a large altar (a semi-circular mud platform onto which altar objects are placed) is created upon which the uhunmwun elao sits (along with a number of other objects and sculptures). The altar serves as a shrine and a point of communication with the deceased. The ancestor is respected through offerings made to the shrine.

Distinguishing Features

  • Made of terracotta
  • Similar to type 1 Oba heads:
    • Naturalistic
    • Rounded cheeks (but not swollen)
    • Eyes are pointed ovals
    • Eyes thickly outlined
    • Small compared to other Benin heads
    • Tight fitting bead collar, that in most cases, does not cover the chin
    • Tightly fitting beaded cap

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