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Ekpeye/Igbo Dance Mask

Nigeria. £3200

Dance Mask. Ekpeye/Igbo Culture, Nigeria

This large head crest ceremonial mask has been shaped into the form of a pangolin. Carved from a lightwood and hollowed for ease of wear, the mask would have been paraded on the head of a masked dancer belonging to the Egbukere society. 

Ex Private Collection, France

Estimated Period: 1960’s or Before


Headdresses like these are made by members of the Egbukere society, the primary men’s association of the Ekpeye, a people in south eastern Nigeria usually included as a subgroup of the Igbo people. Until at least 1966,the Egbukere society’s major celebration each year was a three day event during the dry season, that featured feasting and vigorous dancing, with dancers wearing large headdresses. 

Because the pangolin (a scaly anteater) resembles both a reptile and a mammal, the Ekpeye regard it as a special creature existing in two separate worlds and as a symbol of transformation. Each individual carved wooden scale has been inserted into the body of this pangolin mask. The Ekpeye regard the blacksmith as holding a similar place among humans: he magically transforms earth (iron ore)into metal (iron). Thus, the pangolin is the blacksmith of the animal world. 


Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

(Click on images to enlarge)

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L: 102 CM
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