Inventory no.: 1935

Benin Divination Container


Carved Wooden Container by Eobadia Wopund

Benin, Nigeria

circa 1900

height: 22.5cm, approximate diameter: 31.5cm

This extravagantly carved wooden contained is signed by the carver who gives his name as ‘Eobadia Wopund’. A companion container (apparently unsigned) is in the Brighton Museum & Art Gallery whose collection was largely put together in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Such exceptionally well-carved containers would have been used to contain sacrificial offerings, medicines, or gifts. Large boxes and the like were carved by members of the

Omada, an association or organisations that was included in the Iweguae which was made up of the personal and domestic servants of the Oba or king. The history of the Omada dated back to the mid-19th century and Omada members were free to invent forms and to portray historical scenes in their work (Ezra, 1992, p. 253-60).

The container or box here is in two roughly equal parts – a base or bowl, and a cover, both of which have tapering sides. The halves fit together in such a way that the motifs carved onto them run across both halves. The base of the bowl is flattened and this is matched by the top of the lid.

The sides of the container are profusely carved with eight human figures including one of an

Oba and possibly his queen. The remaining six figures appear to be courtiers.


Oba is dressed in regal dress including a coral crown and neck covering. He holds royal standards as do the other figures.

The top of the cover is carved with a mudfish (often associated with divination suggesting that this box was intended for use in divination ceremonies) coiled around a disembodied head.

Banks (1975) illustrates the Brighton Museum & Art Gallery example which is similarly carved with an

Oba and seven other figures plus a disembodied head on the lid.

The example here has a fine, dark patina. There are no losses to the carving, no prominent cracks and no repairs.

See lot 151, Sotheby’s, ‘Arts of Africa, Oceania and the Americas’, New York, May 19, 2001 for a very similar example. (The hardcopy of the catalogue contains images and text detail; the auction results can be viewed




Banks, G., African Carvings, The Royal Pavilion, Art Gallery and Museums, Brighton, 1975.

Ezra, K.,

Royal Art of Benin: The Perls Collection in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1992.


UK art market

Inventory no.: 1935