Exhibitions: The Arts of Africa

Double Gong (Egogo)

Elephant ivory ornaments and ceremonial objects are among the most prized possessions in the court of the oba (king) of Benin. Ivory is valued because the elephant is associated with the "king of the forest" in Edo thought and, traditionally, one tusk from every elephant killed in the kingdom was given to the oba. The white color of ivory was also associated with purity and with Olokun, the god of the sea, who is the oba's equivalent in the spirit world.

Ivory gongs are still carried by the oba on occasions such as the Emobo ceremony, in which the oba annually purifies and strengthens the nation by striking the gong to drive off malevolent spirits. Only six of these elaborately carved, clapper-less bells in ivory are known, including the one currently in use by the reigning oba.