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No. 972.1
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Details of No. 972.1:
No. 972.1/1
Publication: 1908. Punch, Cyril. "Further Note on the Relation of the Bronze Heads to the Carved Tusks, Benin City." MAN: A Monthly Record of Anthropological Science, Vol. VIII, No. 44.

Original language: English

Caption: No caption

Text: “In Man, 1908, 2, appeared an article on the relation of the bronze heads of Benin to the carved tusks from that city, together with a photograph of two of the heads. There is also a reference to a photograph taken by myself which appeared in Ling Roth’s book, ‘Great Benin’. As there appears to be a doubt in some minds as to whether the heads, such as illustrated in Man, 1908, 2, formed the support for carved tusks, perhaps the testimony of an eye-witness may be worthy of record. I myself took the photograph herewith reproduced, and the tusks were at that time standing on top of the heads, and not, as has been suggested, behind them. I can guarantee that the altar was exactly as it appears and that the negative has undergone no retouching. I cannot remember whether there were any wooden spikes fixed in the holes in the crowns of the heads which supported the tusks, but if there were the white ants would soon have made short work of them. The carved tusks were of all sizes, from “scrivelloes” of 4 and 5 lbs. to large ones of 60 to 70 lbs. Of course all tusks were not necessarily supported on heads, nor, at the time of my visit, did all heads support tusks. I believe that originally all the heads were intended for this purpose, but that the state and ceremony which must have prevailed in Benin in early times had sadly declined. The compounds in which stood the juju altars were neglected, cattle wandered about and displaced the objects on them. New altars were made as each king died, and the older ones fell into decay.” (p. 84)

Illustrator: Cyril Punch
Illustration technique: b/w field photograph

Publication page: 84

Related images: Same image published in 1908 & 1903: see #s 972.1 & 1123.66.

• Benin City (Country, region, place)
• cast brass (Materials and techniques)
• carved ivory (Materials and techniques)
• shrine (Notable features)
• altar pieces (Object name, type)
• bells (Object name, type)
• carved tusks (Object name, type)
• commemorative heads (Object name, type)
• tusk stands (Object name, type)
• Edo (Style, culture group)

Jim Ross, (5/8/2010):

A good reproduction of this image appears in Nigel Barley's 2010 British Museum publication "The Art of Benin" (fig 7, p18) wherein the author advises that this is the oldest known photograph of a Benin ancestral altar, and was taken by the 'palm oil ruffian' Cyril Punch. The caption reads, 'Juju altar. King's compound - Benin City May 1891'. Noteworthy are the rounded shape of the altar and the presence of a complex cast altarpiece incorporating several figures, in the centre, flanked by four 'late' heads surmointed by carved tusks. Ukhurhe rattle staffs can been seen at the rear. The heads are fixed to the ground by a double-ended stake through the crown which also supports the tusk. Judging by style alone, this must have been an altar to a very recently deceased oba."

A similar scene appears in Africa. Land of Spirits edited by Claudia Zevi with the contribution of Gigi Pezzoli (2015) 152 with the following caption: " Royal altar from Benin City, before 1897."

Jim Ross, (12/7/2011):

This photograph appeared for sale in lot 105 on p56 of Sotheby's catalogue of Important Tribal Art for its June 24, 1992 London auction.

Jim Ross, (8/9/2012):

This approximate image appears in Hans Himmelheber's Negerkunst und Negerkunstler (1960), abb 195 on p264 with the following caption: "Benin-Altar mit Metallkopfen und beschnitzten Elefantenzahnen."

Jim Ross, (9/13/2012):

A similar scene appears in Afrikanische Plastik by Eckart von Sydow (1954) pl. 28A with the following caption on p161: "Sud-Nigerien. Alt-Benin. Im Jare 1914 errichteter Altar des Oba fur den Konig Ovonrame (1888 bis 1913). Nach einer Aufnahme E. von Sydows im Jahre 1936."

Jim Ross, (7/18/2013):

See a similar altar scene in Plate II on p6 of "Benin: Notes on Altars and Bronze Heads" by Chief Akitola Akpata in the Chistlehurst periodical Ethnologia Cranmorensis, 1937, no. 1, 5-10 with the following caption: "An Altar in the Palace, constructed for the late Oba in 1921."

Jim Ross, (8/1/2019):    This image appears in "Fragile Legacies - The Photographs of Solomon Osagie Alonge" by Amy J.Staples, Flora Edouwaye S. Kaplan & Bryna M. Fryer (2017), fig. 1.8 on p33  with the following caption: "Ancestral shrine  Royal Palace, Benin City, Nigeria. Photograph by Cyril Punch, 1891. Cabinet card, albumen print. 20.4 x 25.4 x 0.25 cm (8-1/8 x 10 x 1/10 in.) EEPA 1993-0014"
    Chapter 1 (pp20-39) in which this image appears in "Fragile Legacies" is entitled "Imaging / Imagining History" and is by Amy J. Staples. The chapter begins on p20 as follows: "Late 19th and early 20th century colonial and indigenous photograph from Southern Nigeria presents a rich visual history of the Benin kingdom and the Benin-Edo peoples...." The next paragraph, also on p20 begins as follows: "Pioneering Nigerian photographers like Solomon Osagie Alonge (1911-1994) played a key role in imaging and imagining the visual histories of the Benin kingdom." 
   On p32 of "Fragile Legacies," we're told that this photograph is from "the Eliot Elisofon Photographic Archives (EEPA), part of the National Museum of African Art...."  & it is further described on pp32-3 as follows: "One of the rarest items in the collections is an early albumen print cabinet card of a Benin ancestral shrine taken in 1891 by Cyril Punch, a British trader who frequently traveled between Lagos and Benin (fig. 1.18). The mount contains a handwritten inscription (perhaps by Punch) with the title 'Juju altar. Kings compound Benin City May 1891.' The photograph is considered the earliest known image of a Benin altar prior to the Benin Punitive Expedition in 1897, when the oba's palace was burned and destroyed. Despite the colonial exoticism of its title, the photograph stands as an important visual document depicting a precolonial Benin ancestral shrine with its configuration of carved ivory tusks, commemorative heads, bronze bells, king figure with eben (ceremonial sword), and other smaller figures."
  Note that the "handwritten inscription" on the mount referred to in the previous paragraph of this comment does not appear in either of the the two photographs of this scene set forth in RAAI #s 972.1 & 1123.66, neither of which seems to have a mount.