TITLE: Tiv Mami Wata Mask
TYPE: face mask
COUNTRY: Nigeria
DESCRIPTION: Tiv Mami Wata Face Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Kwagh-hir
FUNCTION: Entertainment
AGE: ca. 1980s

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.