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Igbo Mmuo crest

Igbo Mmuo crest
Igbo Mmuo crestIgbo Mmuo crestIgbo Mmuo crestIgbo Mmuo crest
Tribe: Igbo
Country: Nigeria
Ritual: Mmuo Initiation
Name: Mmuo Crest
Materials: Wood, copper, cowries, leather, calabash, beads
Provenance: Coll. Niels Andersen. Andrew Turley, SuagaCollection 2001.
Comments: This piece shows subtle indications of age and use. Age is estimated at circa 1970.

The Igbo number around 8 million and are located in south-eastern Nigeria. Their neighbours are the Ibibio, Ijo, Ekoi, Igala and Idoma.

Before the influence of Europeans and christian missions, most Igbo practised ancestor worship, which held that in order to gain success in this world one must appease the spirits of the deceased. One of the primary ways of showing respect for the dead was through participation in the secret mens society Mmuo (Mwo-, Mmo-) where masks representative of maidens with delicate features and elaborate coiffures escorted the soul of the recently deceased males into the next life.

The Mmuo exists primarily in the northern Igbo area but in other parts similar societies exist under different names. The second level of Mmuo initiates were responsible for carrying out the funeral ceremonies for the deceased and inducting the departed spirits into the Ebe Mmuo, so that they could no longer cause mischief in the village. The masks were also worn during harvest celebrations and annual ceremonies to honour the earth spirit.

This crest has stylistic similarities to the northern Igbo and southern Idoma, with a face that has a protruding, slightly open mouth with rows of teeth and typical head dress traits - a hair line formed by 3 arcs. The white faces on masks connotate death or the world of the spirits and although they represent deceased maidens they are only worn by men to escort the souls of the recently deceased male ancestors. No head-dresses are allowed at the burial of a woman.

The helmet is constructed from a half calabash with the face and hairstyle carved from a single piece of wood. The face is held in place by a sheet of leather laced to the rim of the helmet by a leather thong. Holes are drilled in the calabash with cowries attached by leather The copper rings are likely to represent copper coins that were often woven into Igbo hairstyles. They have worn the lower edges of their attachment holes, the holes in the wood superstructure binding it to the calabash are worn on their lower edges, the lower edges of the holes in the calabash have softened and the grain is raised in the wood superstructure.

The piece includes a leather chinstrap and a rattle of tightly woven caner filled with small stones and a tin disk. Rattles were used at funerals at the same time as drums, singing and firearms.


  1. African Art, Frank Willet. Praeger Publishers Inc NY. 1971.
  2. GI Jones Photographic Archive. Museum of Archaeology & Anthropology. Cambridge University.
  3. University of Iowa, Art and Life in Africa Project and UIMA. Stanley Collection Database.
  4. Masquerade in Igbo Cultural Milieu. Ben Okwu Eboh. Online.
  5. Funeral Ceremonies of the Ibo. Karen Hauser. Online. 1992.