TITLE: Ibibio Ekpo Mask
TYPE: mask
GENERAL REGION: Africa
COUNTRY: Nigeria
ETHNICITY: Eket (Ibibio)
DESCRIPTION: Ekpo Society Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Ekpo Society
AGE: 1990s
MAIN MATERIAL: wood
OTHER MATERIALS: kaolin clay; pigment

The Ibibio inhabit Nigeria and parts of Benin. The Eket are a subgroup of the Ibibio known for their highly cultivated artistic style. Masks are used by the Ekpo (leopard) Society to protect and purify the village through invocation of the Ekpo bush spirit. Membership in the society is limited to men, and during masked dances for the purification and protection of the village, women are not allowed to touch the dancers. Membership at higher ranks in the Society requires considerable wealth and confers high social status.

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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: ca. 1980s
MAIN MATERIAL: wood
OTHER MATERIALS: oil-based 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.

This mask was culturally used, probably in the 1980s, in a Nigerian community.

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: Ogoni Helmet Mask
TYPE: helmet mask
GENERAL REGION: Africa
COUNTRY: Nigeria
ETHNICITY: Ogoni
DESCRIPTION: Helmet Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Entertainment
AGE: ca. 1980s
MAIN MATERIAL: wood
OTHER MATERIALS: paint; cloth straps

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 mainly for entertainment, and this may be one such mask.  This exceptionally large helmet (measuring 49 cm tall and 31 cm wide) would give the appearance of an oversized head on the dancer’s body.  Atop the head is a bowl, in which the dancer would probably put fruit.  Like women in many developing countries, Ogoni women balance heavy loads skillfully on their heads to reduce the burden on their arms.

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TITLE: Ogoni Mami Wata Mask
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Africa
COUNTRY: Nigeria
ETHNICITY: Ogoni
DESCRIPTION: Ogoni Mami Wata Face Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Agriculture; Funeral
AGE: 1970s
MAIN MATERIAL: wood
OTHER MATERIALS: paint

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

Masks are used for funeral celebrations and to celebrate the harvesting of yams.  The Mami Wata represented here 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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