The mask of Idia is a sculptural depiction of Queen Idia, The first Iyoba (Queen Mother) of the the Benin Kingdom.
The mask is arguably, the most popular artwork from Nigeria as the masterpiece has been massively replicated since it was used as the emblem for Festival of Arts and Culture in 1977.
As at the time of the punitive expedition of the Benin Kingdom by the British forces that led to the exiling of the then monarch, Oba Ovoranmwen in 1897, They were 6 of these masks but now only five can be traced.
The masks of Idia are made of Ivory and iron material and dates far back as the 16th century.They are long, and ovular in shape. Each mask’s gaze is accentuated with iron inlay at its pupils and lower eye outline, and the eyes are slightly diverted by the eyelids. Above the eyes, you find four supraorbital marks which are associated with Benin women.
The masks’ facial features are symmetrical and skillfully precise.
Their lips are parted, nostrils slightly flared, and hair dense with tiny coils and a rectilinear hairline.
The masks’ expression of “impersonal coolness” reflected the stylistic conventions of the Oba’s ivory carvers guild, with a naturalism typical of craft in early Benin art.
The headdress forms part of the ukpe-okhue (“parrot’s beak”) hairstyle Queen originated.
The depicted precious coral of the headdress and choker are in the form of cylindrical ileke (“royal”) beads, which was previously reserved for the Oba and the Edogun (war chief).
The masks depict the prowess of Queen Idia, the mother of Oba Esigie…who is credited for leading the Benin Empire’s war against the Igalas.
The mask symbolise wealth, divinity, power and the trade relationship between the Benin Empire and the Portuguese.
All five share the same similarities with the exception of the one in Linden Museum which was dressed with coral.
Today, The five masks can be found in the Metropolitan Museum in New York, British Museum, London, Linden Museum, Stuttgart, Seattle Arts Museum and the last one in a private collection of the heirs of Henry Galway.
They were all taken from Oba Ovoranmwen’s bedroom during the British invasion of Benin to offset the cost of the expedition.
All efforts for them to be repatriated have been unsuccessful.
This most likely may have inspired a young storyteller of Nigerian descent living in The Netherlands, Sharon Jane Elistworth to write her new book titled The Mask of Idia: ‘Echoes of the Past’
The Mask of Idia: ‘Echoes of the Past’ which is the first of a six-book series. Though fictional, the book merges mystery with history. It features the ivory mask of Queen Idia of the ancient kingdom of Benin, located in present-day Nigeria.
The Mask of Idia opens in Tuscany when the head of the Syndicate, a global cult, named Michel Vermeer dies unexpectedly after reigning for more than fifty years. The brotherhood is left in disarray during a meeting, pondering on what to do as they have been unable to find the first ivory mask of Queen Idia, of the 16th century Benin kingdom.
While the twelve brothers are debating, the Godfather, who is the late Michel’s apprentice, disrupts the meeting assuming his position on the throne of the Syndicate. When asked what gave him the right to take over the leadership of the brotherhood, the Godfather shows them the ring of the Heads, which alongside the red cloak, is the symbol of the Syndicate’s leadership. One of the brothers named Gustavo Dos Santos Pan is killed by the Godfather when challenging his new position, leaving the remaining eleven brothers in fear.
In Lewisburg (Pennsylvania), for the protagonist Sarah I. Akintunde – Williams, the journey begins when she finds herself in a therapy session with Dr Jacqueline Patterson. Sarah tries to remember the horror of the day her father Daniel Akintunde was sentenced to death by a judge on counts of murdering her mother. This happened thirty-three years ago when Sarah was seven years of age and she believes to have witnessed it. Since then, she’s been trailed with panic attacks and vision like nightmares. One of the most reoccurring dreams she has is the one where she finds herself in a dark forest with black trees and red coloured grass. There she always finds her hands drenched in blood and whenever she lifts her eyes, she beholds a statue with its back turned against her, moving its
head slowly to face Sarah. She always wakes up screaming and this prompted her husband to send
her on a mission to find out what is wrong with her, or else she won’t get to see her daughter again.
More than the gruesome death of her mother is the boiling anger Sarah has for the system which subjected her to jumping from one foster home to the other, to struggling her way up the ladder as a physicist. Dr Patterson tries to help Sarah uncover some key details of the night her mother was murdered, only for her to find Sarah in a trance, hovering over the couch she was sitting on. When brought back to reality, Dr Patterson challenges Sarah to open up about her abilities. She refuses to do so, and Dr Patterson convinces her to come back for another therapy session using Sarah’s known weakness: her daughter Mirabel.
The following Saturday, Sarah gets an unnamed black box delivered to her new home by a mailman named Leo. On opening the box Sarah finds a heavy coral bead necklace and a blank sheet of paper that writes itself. To her shock, the letter is from her father who pleads innocent to her mother’s murder. Daniel tells her that she must find out the truth about her ancestry by finding the mask of Idia. Sarah comes from a long line of custodians of the first ivory mask carved for the queen. Her father tells her of a man named Ogida who taught him all he knows. Sarah tries getting in contact with her father’s attorney Robert Lawson so she can get in touch with her father. She finds out from him that Daniel was put on death row earlier that morning. The black box then disappears, only reappearing occasionally as a compass leading her to the mask.
A chain of events occurs where the Godfather is seen watching Sarah’s every move and attempts at finding the mask, killing his subjects if and when it pleases him to do so. One of these events is when the Godfather killed Michel Vermeer in his personal vendetta against him. Another important event is when the Godfather takes control of Leo’s mind and uses him to infiltrate Sarah’s home as a familiar face from her past.
Not long after, Sarah is almost killed by gunmen outside Dr Patterson’s office building while trying to escape the doctor. Luckily, Dr Patterson’s receptionist Tim Blakewood is able to help her escape. It becomes apparent that Dr Patterson has been working for the Godfather and the Syndicate all along. The doctor meets her death when the Godfather shows up at the parking lot and finds bullet cases on the floor.
Between the complex divorce process from her (soon -to- be) ex-husband James Babatunde Williams and her being chased by the Godfather, Sarah and her newfound friend Tim travel from Pennsylvania to London. They visit the British museum and are left disappointed when they find out that the ivory mask of Queen Idia there is not the one they are looking for. Sarah and Tim then set out for Benin, where they soon discover that in order to find the mask, they must first find Ogida.
Upon arrival in Lagos, Sarah is surprised to see Robert Lawson in the airport. Tim’s suspicion of the attorney is quickly met with disappointment when Sarah brings Robert along on their journey. Soon their long drive to Benin City begins where their first mission is to find Ogida. However, their driver makes them to understand that Ogida is neither man nor woman, but it’s a spirit. With the Syndicate on their trail, Sarah finds herself racing against the clock to find the mask of Idia and uncover the mystical powers it possesses.