L. Map of Africa R. Portuguese Trader with Menillas.
BENIN KINGDOM Anonymous
16th-17th c African (West) Benin Kingdom Sculpture
(c. 900 - 1897)
The Portuguese established trading posts at various places along the coast. The bronze plaque on the right shows one of the Portuguese ambassadors who tried to establish relations with the local rulers. The bearded figure stands erect and fully frontal, like the figure we saw on the ivory saltcellar. He too holds his sword and spear, but he is surrounded by five strange curved objects. These were known as "menillas" and were bronze forms used as exchange in trading. During the second half of the 15th century trade in ivory and spices was extremely lucrative, with profits up to 600 percent.
The Portuguese sailed along the coast and up the rivers. By 1472 they had sailed up the Benin river and were able to contact the Oba of Benin, of whom we shall hear more later. By 1482 they had reached the mouth of the mighty Congo river, and by 1486 they had rounded the Cape of Good Hope and sailed into the Indian Ocean. The voyages of Portuguese explorers and merchants were funded by the great merchant bankers of Italy and Germany, including the Medici of Florence and the Fuggers of Augsburg. In 1499 Pope Sixtus VI awarded patronage over all African lands already discovered or to be discovered on the young Emanuael I of Portugal.
Although they gained something from the gold along the cost, the Arab traders did not allow them access to the rich reserves of the interior. As noted before, ivory was highly prized, but due to the heavy hunting of elephants along the coast, the supply of ivory gradually ran. Since African pepper that was not as highly esteemed as pepper coming from India, that trade became less profitable as well. Trade in these commodities was gradually replaced by the slave trade, controlled first by the Portuguese, then by the Dutch and later by the English.
BENIN | L. Map of Africa R. Portuguese Trader with Menillas. | 1500-1700 | African | Benin