Water spirit mask from Niger delta

Yoruba-Ijebu mask (24 inches long) for the Ekine cult, depicting the water spirit Igodo from the Wests African country of Nigeria was sold at  Sotheby’s. I believe these people are also referred to as Ijaw.  The Niger river dominates their region. The mask is often worn on the top of the head of a man walking in deep water. Then all you can see is this strange creature gliding across the river.

I’ll bet you would like one of these on your wall. Don’t worry– you can sometimes find affordable reproductions on the internet. A Nigerian water spirit is a must for any African mask collection. This mask is a fine example of the water spirit masks common to the people of the Niger delta region. There are other water spirits that might have some little creature carved on a long chin or an enlarged headdress.

There are mangrove forests and creeks along the river in Nigeria. The people are commonly grouped into about 50 separate tribes. As you would think for people living along a major river, they are commonly fisherman and traders although they also farm yams, bananas, mangoes, plantains and other items.

Water is an important symbol in rituals and within the culture. Masks like this are used in rites to appease water spirits and protect the crops and villages. Typically, there would be tribal celebrations that lasted for days with the sole purpose of getting on the good side of the water spirits. Dancers would wear the masks as well as elaborate costumes with the best becoming possessed by these spirits. They also believe that water spirits are much like humans, flaws and all. Much of their prayer is dedicated to keeping the water spirits happy.

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