The role of Elephants in the socio-economic & political sphere of the ancient Benin Kingdom can never be overemphasized. The threshold can be traced to the Ogiso Dynasty. During Ogiso Ere’s reign about (16 A.D-66 A.D.) he established a camp and called it Oregbeni & lgbesanmwan Quarters in Benin. They carved tusk, wood & other objects for the Ogiso & the recent Obas. Ore-Ogbeni literally means “elephant killer’s ‘village”.
When the British invaded Benin Kingdom & carted away with her priced artifacts in 1897, the arts of the ancient kingdom was made known to the international community. Numerous objects including carved elephant tusks were stolen & eventually sold to the rest of the World. These arts ended up selling Benin to the world as one of the greatest artistic ethnic groups in the universe.
Ironically, the loss of these treasure made the whole world to focus on Benin’s artistic excellence &her culture.
Some of the Benin ivories found in the museum of the world today includes; the side blown horns (Oko) for the native doctors and some others as musical instruments, Ivory waist plaques, armlets, bangles, rings &the most famous of them, the Queen Idia mask, which sits at the British Museum, London & an identical replica at the Metropolitan museum of Arts, New York.
Hunting elephants in Benin forests was under the strict control of the Oba of Benin since the period of Ogiso Ere (16 A.D). Ogiso Ere so loved the tusk that he made the people in Oregbeni to train elephants that were used for carrying heavy logs, which were in turn used to carve doors for the Ogiso in those days.
These tusks vary in sizes, shapes, colour & patterns on their surfaces. Some of these patterns were actually visual representations of some events that took place in the kingdom as the Binis lacked formal education as a means of documentation at the time. So basically the tusks doubled as both ornaments & documents. The designs or motifs found in some of them were very complex &hard to decipher that only the sculptors could interpret them.