Idia mask is one of the most celebrated pieces of art from the Benin Kingdom in what is now Edo State, Nigeria.
The mask is a miniature sculptural portrait measuring 24.5 cm in height and 12.5 cm wide, made from Ivory and an inlay of iron. It shows the face of the queen mother (Iyoba) wearing a beaded headdress and beaded choker.
The mask is one of the many precious artefacts looted by the British soldiers from the pillaging of the palace in old Benin Kingdom 126 years ago.
The mask became a cultural emblem for the Second World Festival of Arts and Culture (FESTAC77) held in Lagos Nigeria in 1977. The festival provided a growing movement that pushed for the return of artefacts looted from the palace of the Oba of Benin in 1897.
It is heart-warming to note that the year 2022 marked the beginning of the return of some of these precious pieces to their ancestral homes
Idia was an actual queen mother who helped rule the ancient kingdom of Benin with her wisdom, charisma, and prowess.
Queen Idia was the mother of Esigie, who reigned as Oba of the Edo people from 1504 to 1550
She was instrumental in securing the title of Oba for her son Esigie, following the death of his father Oba Ozolua, by raising an army to fight off his half-brother Arhuaran, who was supposed to be the Oba by right and tradition.
She was supposed to be killed after the crowning of her son as required by tradition, but Esigie secretly hid her and protected her in a sacred room that could only be entered by authorized persons until he was able to make changes to the tradition, which cancelled that law. Queen Idia later returned as a free person to the palace and ruled alongside her son, helping him fight spiritually and physically over his enemies.
Esigie instituted the title of iyoba (queen mother) and conferred it on his mother, along with Eguae-Iyoba (Palace of the Queen Mother).
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