Idiophone: Bird of Prophecy (ahianmwen-oro),

Edo peoples

Hand-held clappers are among a vast and varied category of 'self-sounding' musical instruments, known collectively as idiophones, that produce sound without the addition of a stretched membrane or a vibrating string or reed. The most common form of clapper in the Benin corpus consists of a cylindrical shaft surmounted by the figure of a long-beaked bird with outstretched wings, such as this example. They are played by striking the bird figure on its beak with a metal rod.

The bird perched with outstretched wings on the finials of this idiophone sounded on the occasions of Ugie Oro court festivals is usually called the "bird of prophecy" (ahianmwen-oro) and sometimes the "messenger of god" (odibosa). Beginning with the reign of King Esigie in the sixteenth century, the sounding of clappers depicting the bird of prophecy at Ugie Oro court ceremonies was regarded as a sign that the kings of Benin were endowed with the power to alter history.

On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 352

Public Domain

Object Details

Date: 16th–19th century

Geography: Nigeria, Court of Benin

Culture: Edo peoples

Medium: Brass, iron

Dimensions: H. 13 x W. 3 1/2 x D. 4 5/8 in. (33 x 8.9 x 11.8 cm)

Classification: Metal-Musical Instruments

Credit Line: Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Klaus G. Perls, 1991

Accession Number: 1991.17.89

Adolph Schwartz, Amsterdam, The Netherlands, until 1980; (Sotheby Parke-Bernet and Co., London June 16, 1980, no. 13); Mr. and Mrs. Klaus G. Perls, New York, until 1991

Ezra, Kate. Royal Art of Benin: The Perls Collection in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1992, no. 89, pp. 196–197.