Waist Pendant of a Leopard's Head

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Benin Kingdom, Nigeria

Waist Pendant of a Leopard's Head, 17th/18th century

14.5 x 10 x 5 cm (5 11/16 x 3 15/16 x 2 in.)
The National Commission for Museums and Monuments, Nigeria, 47.21.4

A formidable predator with a copper-colored pelt, the leopard is a fitting counterpart to the oba and is particularly associated with his military might. Brass leopard-head waist pendants were worn as insignia by Benin’s militia. They are no longer worn in the kingdom, because it does not have a standing army. Ivory pendants were far more limited in use, belonging only to the oba or top-ranking officers such as the iyase or ezomo. The holes simulating the leopard’s spots on this example were once inlaid with brass, and bells dangled from the loops rimming its jawline.