The word Yoruba describes both a language and a group of people spread across Nigeria and Benin. Yoruba origins can be traced back to the holy city of Ife at the end of the first millennium. According to the Yoruba peoples myth of the origin, of Ife, it was the place where the gods descended from the skies to populate the world. According to tradition, when the first Oba (Benin king) died his head was sent to Ife for burial, with Ife sending back a bronze head for the ancestors altar. Fascinated by this creation Benin royalty beseeched the Ife king to send an artist who could teach the art of bronze work to Benin craftsmen. The Benin were already skilled working with this extremely rare metal called bronze but had trouble with the technique of casting. The Ife artist Ighea was sent and passed on the now legendary lost wax casting technique which enabled the Benin to create items using less bronze metal. Lost wax casting can be used for bronze or brass or gold.
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1. The craftsman prepares a wax model of his work.
2. For a large hollow item the caster makes a central core from clay and charcoal and then applies wax over this core and carves the surface in detail.
3. The wax core is then covered with fine clay, powered and dampened.
4. Using coarser clay the caster creates a mould of the whole work. of art.
5. The mould is heated, the wax melts and is replaced with molten metal which fills the empty space.
6. Once cool, the mould is broken to remove the work of art. The mould can not be used again! In Benin bronze has always been reserved for the oba and his family with many figures designed in their honor.