Bronze Head of Queen Idia, one of four from the 16th century (Ethnological Museum of Berlin)

Idia was the mother of Esigie, the Oba of Benin who ruled from 1504 to 1550. She played a significant role in the rise and reign of her son, being described as a great warrior who fought relentlessly before and during her son's reign as the oba (king) of the Edo people.[1] Queen Idia was instrumental in securing the title of oba for Esigie following the death of his father Oba Ozolua. To that end, she raised an army to fight off his brother Arhuaran, who was subsequently defeated in battle. Esigie thus became the 17th Oba of Benin. [2][3]

Esigie instituted the title of iyoba (queen mother) and conferred it on his mother, along with Eguae-Iyoba (Palace of the Queen Mother).[4]

Victory over Igala people

Subsequently, the neighboring Igala people sent warriors across the Benue River to wrest control of Benin's northern territories. Esigie conquered the Igala, reestablishing the unity and military strength of the kingdom. His mother Idia received much of the credit for these victories[5] as her political counsel, together with her magical powers and medicinal knowledge, were viewed as critical elements of Esigie's success on the battlefield.


Several artistic representations of Idia were looted from Benin City during the British Benin Expedition of 1897, and are now held in museums around the world. Alongside other Benin Bronzes, they have been the subject of calls for their repatriation.

A Queen Idia ivory mask held in the British Museum became the symbol of the Second World Black and African Festival of Art and Culture FESTAC held in Nigeria in 1977.[6]

In Eddie Ugbomah's 1979 film The Mask, the Nigerian hero steals a Queen Idia mask back from the British Museum.[6]


  1. ^ Historical Dictionary of Nigeria by Toyin Falola, Ann Genova, p.160
  2. ^ Egharevba (1968), p. 26
  3. ^ West African Journal of Archaeology, Editorial Board WAJA, p.144
  4. ^ Guinea Coast, 1400–1600 A.D. | Timeline of Art History | The Metropolitan Museum of Art
  5. ^ Historical Dictionary of Nigeria by Toyin Falola, Ann Genova, p.160
  6. ^ a b Hicks, Dan (2020). The Brutish museums : the Benin bronzes, colonial violence and cultural restitution. Pluto Press. pp. 196–197. ISBN 978-0-7453-4176-7. OCLC 1220877111.

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