Mask for the Ijaw water spirit

The Ijaw are a large ethnic group of about 14 million people in the delta region of Nigeria, West Africa.

Traditional religious practices center around “Water spirits” in the Niger river, and around tribute to ancestors. Although the Ijaw are now practicing Catholicism, Anglicanism and Pentecostal , they also have elaborate traditional religious practices of their own. Veneration of ancestors plays a central role in Ijaw traditional religion, while water spirits, known as Owuamapu figure prominently in the Ijaw pantheon. In addition, the Ijaw practice a form of divination called Igbadai, in which recently deceased individuals are interrogated on the causes of their death. Ijaw religious beliefs hold that water spirits are like humans in having personal strengths and shortcomings, and that humans dwell among the water spirits before being born.

Central to the festivities is the role of masquerades, in which men wearing elaborate outfits and carved masks dance to the beat of drums and manifest the influence of the water spirits through the quality and intensity of their dancing. Particularly spectacular masqueraders are taken to actually be in the possession of the particular spirits on whose behalf they are dancing.  1823


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