beadwork of benin - Jillian Finkelstein Anth251 Beadwork of...

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Jillian Finkelstein Anth251 Beadwork of Benin The former kingdom of Benin traces back to the 10 th century. It was inhabited by the Beni who lived in today’s Southern Nigeria, on the northwestern coast of Africa, and were ruled by the Oba. The system of government was a theocracy. The Oba was comparable to a god, so to act against him would be an act against the gods. They expanded territory over the years, from the mid-15 th century to the early 17 th century, and eventually the kingdom became a very powerful state. In 1472, Benin was introduced to the Portuguese as their first European contacts, which helped them develop a trade system with Portugal, Holland, France, and England (Roese & Bondarenko, 2003). In return for goods, the Beni exported ivory, palm oil, pepper, redwood, and in later years they exported slaves (Ben-Amos, 1999). Slave labor was abundant in Benin for the royal family, so it became a big export in the 1720s. Trade with these countries, especially Portugal, contributed many resources and techniques that the Bini adopted into their own artwork such as textiles, coral, and metal casting. One popular art form in Benin was beadwork. During the 15 th century, stone beadmaking developed. Benin craftsman carved stone, especially agate, to make beads for the royal court. By the 17 th century, beads were used to make entire costumes of coral beads which became the official Benin royal garb (Dubin, 1995). Prior to the introduction of European beads, Africans relied mostly on body paint, scarification, plugs and natural elements to adorn their bodies. Their beads were made from seeds, ivory, bone, and shells, which were mostly made by women (Sciama, 1998). Beadwork was a highly
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gender oriented activity that had social importance. Beadworking was a social group
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