Ogbodo elephant mask from West Africa

Every week or so I like to pick an especially attractive mask to add to our Ask the Mask Man blogs. Often these are from West Africa, but they are always better in quality than those crude brown things you see on eBay and in thrift shops.

This one is from the Igbo/Izzi people of Nigeria. Its human features, combined with the tusks and trunk of an elephant, were worn horizontally on the head. A grass fibre cuff at the lower rim concealed the head of the dancer, who was dressed in a fibre costume of knee-length.

Every village has a whole hierarchy of these spirits, divided into age-grades, from young boys to older ones. Each of the five or six age-grades is expected to manufacture its own mask. Present mask is carved with an anthropomorphic head which is called “ntekpe”. These types of “ogbodo enyi” are usually only reserved for senior age grades, which is an indication of the group with the highest spiritual authority.

In former times this mask type, which always showed an aggressive and violent behavior, controlled the social order, and this general demeanor has been retained, even though the performances now take place in a peaceful context.

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