TITLE: Ekoi Ekpo Crest Mask
TYPE: crest mask
GENERAL REGION: Africa
DESCRIPTION: Ekpo Society Ancestor Mask
CEREMONY: Ikem Ceremony
FUNCTION: Secret Society; Funeral
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.