King of Benin (Oba) in Procession, late 17th cent.

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Image Reference

D. O. Dapper, Description de l'Afrique . . . Traduite du Flamand (Amsterdam,1686; 1st ed., 1668), between pp. 320-21. (Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, LC-USZ62-30841)

Shows a number of features in Benin City: in the background (A) the house of the queens; on the left (B), the royal courtyard, containing several palaces, showing their spires (D). The king is depicted in the center (E) mounted on a horse with his mounted nobles in procession on the right (F). The king is surrounded by dwarfs (H), and leading the procession on the left are the musicians who are also holding the royal tigers (I). For a discussion of the authenticity of the architectural details in this engraving (first published in the Flemish edition, 1668), see Susan Denyer, African Traditional Architecture (New York, 1978), p. 82. In an informed discussion of Dapper as an historical source, Adam Jones writes "there is virtually no evidence" that Dapper "took much interest in what sort of visual material was to accompany his text," and that it was the publisher, Van Meurs, "who probably did all the engraving himself." With respect to the plates, in particular, Jones concludes: "For those interested in seventeenth-century black Africa rather than in the history of European perceptions, few of the plates showing human beings and artefacts are of any value . . . . [and] originated solely from Van Meurs' imagination" (Decompiling Dapper: A Preliminary Search for Evidence (History in Africa [1990], vol. 17, pp. 187-190).