A Trip to The Metropolitan Museum of Art

A Trip to The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Recently grade 3 students have been participating in a case study of the historic Western African Kingdom of Benin. This is a comparative study alongside explorations of the Lenni-Lenape of North America and later the Dutch in Europe from the 15th through 17th centuries.

Students learned about the geography of ancient Benin and how its location along the Niger River helped trade to thrive in this region. They learned about the Edo people, their life in the villages, their farming and hunting practices, and their religious beliefs. They have been studying its government and hierarchy and examining art from the Benin royal court in class. Students analyzed primary source documents and sketches describing the kingdom by Dutch and Portuguese traders. Students noted the amazement of these sailors at the splendor of the capital city, royal court, and the power of the oba or ruler to raise a standing army of 180,000 warriors. Students also examined artifacts depicting religious and political symbolism to showcase the oba’s power and their belief in his divinity.

At the museum, students saw brass plaques of royal warriors, leopard aquamaniles used in traditional ceremonies, an intricately carved ivory salt cellar used for Portuguese trade, and a mask of Idia, the Queen Mother of Oba Esegie. Seeing the mask and other sculptural works in person was illuminating for students, as they were able to see the level of detail and skill employed by the royal guild.

Visiting The Metropolitan Museum of Art provides important context for grade 3 students by providing concrete examples of ancient Benin culture learned from their historical study. Students also engage in thoughtful discourse about the repatriation of these objects, as the museum looks ahead to redesigning and renovating its Africa wing.

As a city school, students at St. Hilda’s & St. Hugh’s have amazing opportunities to explore museums such as The Met as an extension of their classroom. Students at St. Hilda’s & St. Hugh’s have the good fortune of being able to explore this museum as an extension of their classroom. Research and travel for this Benin study at The MET was made possible by the Annual Fund.