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Igbo mask

Igbo mask
Igbo maskIgbo maskIgbo maskIgbo mask
Tribe: Igbo
Country: Nigeria
Ritual: Unknown
Name: Unknown
Materials: Wood, nails, kaolin, resin
Provenance: Coll. Andrew Turley, SuagaCollection 2002.
Comments: The wood is soft on the left hand side of the mask and tribal repairs have been made with resin. The structure has age cracks and horns repaired with resin and nails. Age is estimated circa 1950.

There is a very similar helmet mask pictured on page 199 of Arts du Nigeria: Collection du Musee des Arts d'Afrique et d'Oceanie, a book issued in 1997 [ISBN: 2-7118-3522-7]. The mask illustrated in this particular book (and shown as image 4 above) is identified as an "Igala or Igbo" Janus Helmet Mask with the dimensions of 66 x 38 x 30 cm.

Here is a rough translation of the text from the French:

"Sculpted from a single piece of wood, this large helmet mask presents a double face surmounted by a pair of horns. The mouth is open wide around pointed teeth. Raised geometric motifs, colored in red and white pigments on a black background, decorate the broad forehead from the line of the eyes. According to Herbert M. Cole, this type of horned mask with a terrifying mouth is found among several Central Nigerian populations who consider the mask to be male. The horns are here those of a buffalo and symbolize the aggressiveness of the wild animals of the bush. According to certain informants, this impressive janus mask could be a 'night mask,' much more powerful than the usual dance masks called mgbedike. During the last century (19th), these masks enjoyed considerable power among masks to punish people accused of dishonest or anti-social behavior".

This mask referred to above also appears on pages 110 and 111 of Francois Neyt's The Arts of the Benue: to the roots of tradition. Interestingly, his attribution is somewhat different.

Here is the brief text:

"The janiform helmet mask with horns set on the head gives an impression of surprise and strength. This object could have been in use in the Idoma/Igbo region and also amongst the Igala who often use helmet masks. In certain details, this mask is close to Igbo art (Icchi design on the forehead of one of the faces), and in others, to the cultures of the Middle Cross River: the open mouth closely reflects the strange and aggressive character of the Oglinye societies of South-east Nigeria" (pp. 111-112).


  1. Arts du Nigeria: Collection du Musee des Arts d'Afrique et d'Oceanie 1997
  2. The Arts of the Benue: to the roots of tradition, Francis Nyet