Collection

Face Mask with Hinged Jaw

Face Mask with Hinged Jaw

Igbo (Ibo, Ibibio), Nigeria.
Late 19th Century,
Wood, Braided Vegetable Fiber, 10½" x 6½".

This style of face mask believed to be created by the Ibo people from Southeastern Nigeria, is one of the theme of social initiation and acceptance. It is created for the Ekpo festival, which is only held at night and the heavily costumed dance and is meant to symbolize ugliness and violence and in return, unacceptable social behavior. It is often used in dances to specifically point out what is and is not considered approved social behavior and has been referred to as idiok ekpo or evil souls. These individuals were believed to have broken traditional laws or died in violent or troubled circumstances.

This mask is typically known to be seen with a characteristically hinged jaw that is attached by twine, vegetable fibers, or hair and is meant to move and clap open and shut during the dance, mimicking the gnashing of its menacing teeth. Most examples contain some form of horns, as well as varying geometric symbols to represent ritual scarification. The majority of these masks are of a very dark wood or are painted or stained black in order to further symbolize the dark nature of the mask’s spirit.

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