TITLE: Tiv Mami Wata Mask
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Africa
COUNTRY: Nigeria
ETHNICITY: Tiv
DESCRIPTION: Tiv Mami Wata Face Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Kwagh-hir
FUNCTION: Entertainment
AGE: ca. 1980s
MAIN MATERIAL: wood
OTHER MATERIALS: paint

The Tiv of Nigeria and Cameroon are a predominantly agrarian people that began adopting and transforming the masquerading traditions of neighboring peoples (including the Igbo and Yoruba) in the 1960s.  They now have an established masking tradition known as kwagh-hir (“wonderful thing”). Kwagh-hir is a form of communal entertainment in which masked characters portraying animals, people or supernatural spirits are used to tell stories.  It takes form either through wooden puppets or masked men.  Some masks are full body suits; others cover only the head or face.

Kwagh-hir are performed during the dry season in villages with sufficient resources.  Any man may take part under the instruction of a director (torkwagh-hir). The performance is announced by the blowing of a ram’s horn.  It is performed only at night, with women singing songs specifically for the masquerade. The first masked figure appears as a huge, raffia-covered animal that spins and dances, sweeping the stage area and raising a dust cloud. Masked spirits then follow individually.  One important spirit is the Mami Wata, represented here.  Mami Wata is a water goddess important to many northwest African cultures. She is sometimes represented by a mermaid but is nearly always surrounded by snakes, as here.

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TITLE: Ekoi Ekpo Crest Mask
TYPE: crest mask
GENERAL REGION: Africa
COUNTRY: Nigeria
ETHNICITY: Ekoi
DESCRIPTION: Ekpo Society Ancestor Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Ikem Ceremony
FUNCTION: Secret Society; Funeral
AGE: 1990s
MAIN MATERIALS: wood; antelope leather
OTHER MATERIALS: pigment; kaolin clay; wicker

The Ekoi people, also known as the Ejagham, inhabit the extreme southeastern region of Nigeria and parts of Cameroon. They are a hunting and farming people who live in scattered communities. Each community has a Ngbe or Ekpo (Leopard) Society that helps coordinate political and social events.

Most Ekoi masks take the form of a helmet or crest that sits atop the head. Unlike the masks of other African peoples, Ekoi masks are covered in antelope leather. In the distant past, the skin of killed slaves was used, but now antelope leather is common. Ancestor spirit masks such as these are used by the Ekpo Society, are worn at funerals and other secret society rituals. In the rituals, ceremonial plays known as Ikem (“sharing one heart and mind”) are performed to venerate the ancestors.  The mask is fixed to the dancer’s head and adorned with raffia fiber to hide the dancer’s face and body.

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TITLE: Ogoni Mask
TYPE: mask
GENERAL REGION: Africa
COUNTRY: Nigeria
ETHNICITY: Ogoni
DESCRIPTION: Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Adult Initiation; Secret Society
AGE: 1990s
MAIN MATERIAL: wood
OTHER MATERIALS: kaolin clay; plant fiber; natural pigment

The Ogoni people have managed to maintain much of their precolonial culture, including their masquerading traditions.  Masks are used by the Ogoni for many purposes. Some are reserved for members of secret societies having varying social ranks.  Others are mainly for entertainment. This mask has an articulated jaw to make the mask look like it is talking while being danced. It would be used in a ritual for initiation of girls into adulthood by a secret society.

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TITLE: Ijo Stingray Crest Mask
TYPE: crest mask
GENERAL REGION: Africa
COUNTRY: Nigeria
SUBREGION: southeast
ETHNICITY: Ijo
DESCRIPTION: Stingray Water Spirit Crest Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Celebration; Spirit Invocation
AGE: 1970s
MAIN MATERIAL: wood
OTHER MATERIALS: cane; pigment

Among the animistic Ijo (also known as Ijaw) people of southeastern Nigeria, both land and water spirits pervade the world. The Ijo are a large ethnic group comprised of 12 to 15 million persons. They are primarily fishers and farmers. The Ijo consider water spirits in particular benevolent to humans, and the Ijo have festivals celebrating and invoking the beneficence of many individual spirits, including the hippopotamus, crocodile, swordfish, and python. This mask is worn atop the head and represents a stingray.

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TITLE: Chamba Buffalo Crest
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Africa
COUNTRY: Nigeria
ETHNICITY: Chamba
DESCRIPTION: Buffalo Crest Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Vara Society
FUNCTION: Adult Initiation; Funeral; Secret Society; Spirit Invocation; Status
AGE: 1970s
MAIN MATERIAL: wood
OTHER MATERIALS: natural pigment

The Chamba inhabit the region south of the Benue River in Nigeria and Cameroon.  They number in the range of 20,000 persons. Their religious beliefs are animistic, with a strong component of ancestor worship. Their masks, danced by the Vara Society at important events such as adult initiations for boys (circumcision ceremonies), important funerals, and the appointment of a chief, usually take the form of a buffalo with a wide open mouth, symbolizing the mythical origin of the Chamba people. They are worn atop the head with a raffia fiber suit covering the face and body. According to legend, the first Chamba originated with a magical buffalo woman who removed her animal skin to bathe in a lake. A young man saw her and hid her animal skin, and they married, producing the first Chamba people. The masks can be female (red colored) or male (black colored).

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TITLE: Ekoi Antelope Mask
TYPE: helmet mask
GENERAL REGION: Africa
COUNTRY: Nigeria
ETHNICITY: Ekoi
DESCRIPTION: Antelope Helmet Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Obassinjom Society
FUNCTION: Protection/Purification; Secret Society
AGE: 1990s
MAIN MATERIALS: wood; antelope leather
OTHER MATERIALS: pigment; brass tacks; cane; jute rope; kaolin clay

The Ekoi people, also known as the Ejagham, inhabit the extreme southeastern region of Nigeria and parts of Cameroon. They are a hunting and farming people who live in scattered communities. Each community has a Ngbe or Ekpo (Leopard) Society that helps coordinate political and social events.

Most Ekoi masks take the form of a helmet or crest that sits atop the head. Unlike the masks of other African peoples, Ekoi masks are covered in leather. In the distant past, the skin of killed slaves was used, but now antelope leather is common. Animal masks such as these are used by the Obassinjom Society, dedicated to detecting and combating witchcraft and sorcery. The mask is fixed to the dancer’s head, adorned with feathers, and danced in a long, blue cloak adorned with magical charms.

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TITLE: Ogoni Elu Mask
TYPE: mask
GENERAL REGION: Africa
COUNTRY: Nigeria
ETHNICITY: Ogoni
DESCRIPTION: Elu (Spirit) Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Celebration; Funeral; Secret Society
AGE: 1960s-1970s
MAIN MATERIAL: wood
OTHER MATERIALS: kaolin clay; cotton string; dried reeds

The Ogoni people have managed to maintain much of their precolonial culture, including their masquerading traditions.  Masks are used by the Ogoni for many purposes. Some are reserved for members of secret societies having varying social ranks.  Others are mainly for entertainment.  The elu mask is an old form of a spirit mask.  In many African societies, the color white is associated with the spirit world.

Too small to be worn on the face, the elu is instead attached to a conical cloth cap that covers the entire head of the dancer. The hinged jaw causes the mask’s mouth to open and close during the dance with a clicking sound. Such masks are worn by members of secret men’s societies during festivals and at funerals of important members of the society.

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TITLE: Yoruba Gelede Mask
TYPE: mask
GENERAL REGION: Africa
COUNTRY: Nigeria
ETHNICITY: Yoruba
DESCRIPTION: Gelede Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Gelede Society
AGE: early 2000s
MAIN MATERIAL: wood
OTHER MATERIALS: paint

The highly populous Yoruba people inhabit much of Nigeria and parts of Benin. The Gelede Society originates in cultural myths about Yemoja, the mother of all living things, who could not conceive children until she learned a dance with a wooden image on her head. The Gelede is named after Yemoja’s chubby daughter, and the dance therefore has a close connection with fertility rites. Nonetheless, the Gelede ceremony performs diverse functions in Yoruba society, including to pray for rain, purify the village of disease, to enlist spiritual help in wartime, and to honor the dead.

For more on the Gelede ceremony, see Babatunde Lawal’s incomparable monograph, The Gelede Spectacle (University of Washington Press, 1996).

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TITLE: Igbo Agbogho Mmuo
TYPE: mask
GENERAL REGION: Africa
COUNTRY: Nigeria
ETHNICITY: Igbo
DESCRIPTION: Agbogho Mmuo (Maiden Spirit) Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Agriculture; Funeral; Secret Society; Spirit Invocation
AGE: 1970s
MAIN MATERIAL: wood
OTHER MATERIALS: kaolin clay; pigment

The Igbo are a numerous people inhabiting southern Nigeria. They have a rich masking tradition based on their traditional religion, Odinani, the circumcision ritual of adulthood, and initiation into secret societies. The Agbogho Mmuo, or Maiden Spirit, is a helmet mask intended to represent the spirit of a beautiful female ancestor and is danced during the dry season as part of agricultural rituals, as well as during funerals of prominent members of the masking secret society.

The mask is worn by men only, who imitate the movements of a graceful female to music played on traditional drums and other instruments. Singers also participate and pay tribute to real and past girls. The whiteness of the mask does not idealize light skin, but instead indicates the spirit nature of the girl represented. The elaborate hair style with comb decorations is intended to enhance the beauty of the mask.

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TITLE: Ogoni Face Mask
TYPE: mask
GENERAL REGION: Africa
COUNTRY: Nigeria
ETHNICITY: Ogoni
DESCRIPTION: Face Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Entertainment
AGE: ca. 1970s
MAIN MATERIAL: wood
OTHER MATERIALS: oil paint; human hair; cotton cloth

The Ogoni people have managed to maintain much of their precolonial culture, including their masquerading traditions.

Masks are used by the Ogoni for many purposes. Some are reserved for members of secret societies having varying social ranks. Others are mainly for entertainment, and this may be one such mask.

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