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The Art of Benin

  • Date Submitted: 03/12/2010 09:30 AM
  • Flesch-Kincaid Score: 36.7 
  • Words: 1626
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The Art of Benin: PART 1


Carefully read the following piece of text. What can it tell us about cross cultural encounters?

In the passage Bacon’s view of the culture and civilisation of Benin is that of a conqueror eyeing the spoils of his conquest for value to pay for the expedition and profit; for gold and silver – “Silver there was none, and gold there was none” (Bacon 1897). He appears unable to accept that an African civilisation had been capable of producing high quality artefacts and he seems indifferent to the possibility that, for example, the cast bronzes and carves tusks could be of religious or ceremonial value and he eyes much of the contents of the storehouses as “chiefly cheap rubbish” (Bacon, 1897), “the usual cheap finery that traders use” (Bacon, 1897), and he wishes the reader back in Britain to view Benin society as naive and backward, the old uniforms and glass walking sticks stored there given by traders to “tickle the fancy of the native” (Bacon, 1897) in a supposedly simple and uncomplicated society.

This reference to cheap trade goods says much about the expectations of those European traders who brought them in anticipation that they would be attractive and of value to their prospective trading partners. Yet Bacon and his compatriots discover the trade gifts in the storehouses of the compound, not in the Kings House or the Palava House, so perhaps they did not have the value to the inhabitants of Benin that the Europeans expected.

In the passage Bacon writes with the superiority and certainty of an English naval officer (Woods & Mackie, 2008, p38), confident in the Imperial tradition viewing a culture that he believes is decaying, well past its peak and which has allowed “several hundred unique bronze plaques” . . .” of really superb casting” (Bacon , 1897) to be left in the storerooms “buried in the dirt of ages” (Bacon, 1897). Bacon sees the religious   or ceremonial aspects of Benin culture as “Juju” (Bacon, 1897)...


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