Uhunmwu-Ẹkuẹ (pendant masks) is a general term, however each mask has a different name depending on the subject depicted. For example, if an Uhunmwu-Ẹkuẹ depicted Iy’ọba Idia it would be called ‘Uhunmwun-Idia’.
Uhunmwu-Ẹkuẹ are one of the best-known categories of Benin artworks. A range of human and animal heads are depicted, hence the term ‘mask’, although they were not used to cover the face. Sometimes known as ‘hip masks’, they may be worn on the belt or hung at the hip as seen cast on relief plaques and in the carved motifs on altar tusks. Many pendant masks have a series of eyelets around the edge of the lower portion, to which small crotal bells were attached, and as the wearer moved they would have chimed.
The material – ivory or brass – and the iconography depicted were important factors in who was able to wear the masks and why. For example, leopard-head pendant masks may be worn by warriors and those involved in the military, and ivory masks only by the high-ranking Ezomo or Iyase (Blackmun in Plankensteiner, 2007, p.363). Meanwhile, brass crocodile-head pendant masks were the preserve of the Ọba, and he wore them in a set of three along the front of his belt (Blackmun in Plankensteiner, 2007, p.365).
Oftentimes, pendant masks also depict human faces, usually but not always, male. Although scholars do not agree, it has been argued these may depict the Ọba, or perhaps defeated chiefs (Blackmun in Plankensteiner, 2007, pp.358, 362). The faces of Portuguese men are also identifiable by their straight hair and beards, and attest to the importance of relationships between the Benin Kingdom and Portugal in the 16th century. The beautiful Queen Idia pendant masks, carved in ivory and which went on to become emblematic of FESTAC ‘77, are the notable exception to the predominantly male depictions on pendant masks.