If this hair-style would though signify Ibos, this could either mean that the Ibos co-operated with the Edo/Bini, and were employed at court, or that they were enslaved. The latter however seams to be improbable because of the frequency of the motive and the proud presentation. Cultural and stylistic mixtures are not rare in Benin. Foreign influences have shaped Benin over centuries and have found expression in its culture. A very prominent example is the representation of Portuguese men, which were considered worth to be depicted and found their way into the bronzes, in the case of the Berlin exhibition as leopard hunters, in a background medallion and even as motive of many textile patterns.
That the Benin culture was also influenced by the neighbouring countries shows a frieze with an Oba (king of Benin) whose feet end as bowfin [amiidae; only to be found in North America nowadays] or catfishes [malapteruridae; native to South America and Africa]. His face and those of the two persons who support him stylistically still refer to Benin. A foreign influence is indicated by the six figures depicted on the left and right side, which are similar to monkeys and not at all typical for Benin. With their twisted legs they remind of a style emerging east of Benin - maybe Tsoede (Central Nigeria). Similar figures later emerge in the Cameroon grass plains, which suggest at least a strange style to the east of Benin.
A standing bronze sculpture with a cross in front of its chest, scars in the form of cats’ whiskers at the corners, and a hat stylistically is clearly Benin; though it also shows strange and unusual elements. Scars in the form of cats’ whiskers and the cross are not typical for Benin. Especially the scars refer to a stranger. This sculpture wears a [loincloth/grass skirt], the torso rests bare and is decorated with two chains, only, apart from the cross. In the right hand it holds a hook or a curved stick, and in the left one a kind of an axe or a hammer. The meaning of this standing male figure is mysterious and provokes numerous theories and assumptions. Such scars are typical for some tribes, e.g. for the Nupe, which live to the north of the Yoruba. But they can also be seen on old Ife terracottas what leads Franc Willett to the assumption they might be Ife people, which might have had the function of messengers between the two royal cities. This theory is supported by the tradition by a Portuguese man at the end of the 15th century. He also reports of a messenger of the king, who is said to have brought the symbols of authority (hat, chest cross, stick) from Ife to Benin in order to thus confirm the new king of Benin. Having successfully finished his mission, the messenger as a former slave is said to have received a cross himself as a sign of his newly retrieved freedom. Already 1919, Felix von Luschan tries to prove that this figure represents a king named “Panther”. In this case the representation of the whiskers was not to be understood materially, but only symbolically. He interprets the cross around the neck as a Christ order attributed by Portugal. Meanwhile, his theory is considered as outdated, and is hardly any more discussed.
Recent researchers as Paula Ben Amos suggest a completely different interpretation of this object. According to her theory it represents either a priest of Osanobua, the creator God, or a member of the secret “Ewua association”. Both groups are said to have worn crosses at court. Then, the cross would be a cosmogonic symbol and refer to the creation of the world. While this type can regularly be found in different modifications in Benin art, another subject cannot be found in literature and is therefore still more mysterious - the warrior on the snail. He is decorated with coral necklaces, which is typical for members of the royal court. About the meaning of the snail can only be speculated. Since animals usually are closely related to myths, a connection with the myth about the establishment of the dynasty written down by the Benin chronicler Egharevba (1893-1980) might be given: The God Osanobua sent his sons to live on earth. Each of them should take with him something useful for the journey. While the elder sons chose talents such as magic or wealth, the youngest one took a snail shell on recommendation of a bird. When the sons arrived on earth, they realized that the talents magic and wealth useful in heaven were useless on earth, because the whole surface of the earth was flooded and therefore uninhabitable. The bird instructed the junior to turn round the snail shell, and an endless quantity of sand poured out of it, which made him lord of an enormous piece of land. Thus the youngest son became ruler of the world. Possibly, the object represents the youngest son of Osanobua proudly sitting or riding on his useful shell, who hereafter became founder of the realm of Benin.
Without doubt, the Benin man and chronicler of Benin, Egharevba, has enormously contributed to the cultural memory of the ancient Western African kingdom of Benin by noting old myths and legends - many of them told by his grandmother.
It is problematic for many interpretations that his historical recordings often are not reflected, and reproduced as „facts “. Finally, his point of view can hardly be proved as incorrect by someone who is a stranger to the culture. An example in the exhibition illustrates the fact that also the data of a chronicler from Benin must be analyzed.
Already because of its function the by far over life size big head with wing-like head decoration is very special. While most other bronzes were made for representation purposes, this one, as also the female counterparts with coral hats, was used for religious rituals. In literature estimations of the age of these heads refer in uncritical repetition almost exclusively to Egharevbas remarks. Accordingly, the representation of rulers of Benin with wing-like head decoration would have been introduced by Oba Osemwede (1816-46), and therefore be at maximum 190 years old. In the exhibition an identical winged head is estimated 450 years old by the TL method. Additionally, stylistically similar heads without wings - which seem to originate from the same workshop – are regularly estimated more than 250 years old in literature. How is it possible? If all these objections were scientifically examined, Egharevbas statement would also have to be partly corrected.
Much about the bronzes is in the dark, little is clarified. Often, neither concrete data concerning the age nor the context are known in which the objects were created - from allocation over foundry workshops to individual persons. The acknowledgement of a large number of objects, which circulate on the market like the bronzes of the exhibition, apart from the already recognized objects, would offer unknown possibilities, e.g. for style comparisons. Even if one cannot always get facts which are at 100 percent certain, one can exclude step by step much which is illogic and thus gain new knowledge, as the examples of the sitting female or the Ibo hair-style have shown.