Authority and Hierarchy on Benin, Northwest Coast and Tokugawa Japan Societies

Essay by Lenny1High School, 11th grade January 2005

download word file, 14 pages 3.8

Downloaded 40 times

There are many kinds of demonstrating power within a cultural sphere. Throughout cultures of the world, power has always been the main feature that defines social order. In societies like Benin and Japan, power is held by these with the power of killing, whereas in northwest coast culture the power to kill was just a representative symbol of the powerful, which were actually the wealthiest. Furthermore, when we consider the close relation between politics and religion and how they influence social ruler held by individuals, social structures turn a lot more complex. Nevertheless, there is one important characteristic shared by the top level of all three cultures: hierarchy and power are always obtained by heredity.

When the first Portuguese explorers reached the Kingdom of Benin in the late 15th century, they found everywhere around lots of heads made of terracotta, wood and brass. The heads had a central importance in both the religion and artistic spheres.

The ones made of terracotta could be found on every ancestral altar of rulers from the Ogyso dynasty or were kept as commemorative heads of important chiefs. On the other hand, the wonderful cast heads of brass were reserved for the ruler of the Kingdom, only for the "Oba". These heads represented not the current but the decreased Oba, as the Benin people believed the head was the centre of thought, judgement, hearing, sight, speech, and life. Therefore, the head of the Oba took a particular significance and was believed to guarantee prosperity and health to the whole of society. This first differentiation among commemorative heads, that assigns a unique and great importance to those of the ruler and the defeated enemies, reflects clearly how works of art describe authority and hierarchy in Benin.

Besides the material used, Oba heads reflect his authority and...