Boys with masks that they carved themselves. Akpa district, Nigeria, 1974. Photo: S. L. Kasfir. Among the Idoma there is no formal instruction in carving. Such knowledge is acquired in a piece-meal fashion from boyhood, by watching a village sculptor at work.

Sidney Littlefield Kasfir. Artists’ Reputations: Negotiating Power through Separation and Ambiguity. African Arts, Vol. 33, No. 1 (Spring, 2000), pp. 70-77+96.

Statuette féminine Idoma, Bénoué, Nigeria, XIXe-XXe siècle

Bois, pigments, tissu, bouton en nacre, métal (72 x 26 x 16 cm), 2 378 g

Sur un socle circulaire, figure féminine assise, visage recouvert de kaolin, motifs colorés en bleu de lessive, corps orné de grandes lignes en relief dessinant des motifs courbes qui évoque davantage des peintures corporelles ena qu'un système de scarifications. Cette statue féminine serait peut-être une figure Anjenu du culte de l'esprit de l'eau féminin mais plus probablement une statue Ekotame qui assurait la protection du lignage qui la conservait.

Musée du quai Branly, photo Patrick Griès


Benue: Ancestral Masquerades / Ghost Masquerades

Boundary Crossing: The Circulation of Masquerades

Whether to incarnate ancestors, enforce social codes, support royal and chiefly authority, celebrate warriors, or to entertain, masquerades were performed throughout the Lower Benue. The circumstances of war, migration, and resettlement since the nineteenth century have meant that masks were and continue to be highly mobile. They could be taken as war booty, bought and sold, adopted with or without accompanying rituals, and altered to suit aesthetic or social requirements of a new community. Reinterpreted by new owners, their meanings changed in response to different contexts and needs.

As cultural boundary crossers, masquerade traditions also retain some traces of where they have been. Their names, origin stories, accompanying musical instrumentation, idiosyncratic dance steps, or special adornments are all clues to their historical paths. The influence of Igbo, Ibibio, Boki, and other Cross River peoples can be seen especially in Idoma masquerades, particularly the whiteface mask so recognizable in southeastern Nigeria.

  • Left: Ebuwo Stilt Masquerade of the Igede Idoma, Uwokwu District, Nigeria, 1981. Photo: Gabriel Idikwu. 
  • Right: Dan Stilt Dancers, Côte d’Ivoire. Photo: M. & A. Kirtley / A.N.A.

Idoma ekwila masquerade, a type of alek-wuafia found in the southern districts. Agila district, Nigeria, 1986. Photo: S. L. Kasfir. In contrast to Idoma carvers who are free artistic agents, the artist-tailors who make these cloth masquerades are denied an artistic identity, working in secret and with numerous restrictions. [Benue, Nigeria].

S. L. Kasfir, 2000.