Igala Horned Helmet

  • Tribe: Igala
  • Origin: Nigeria
  • Approx Age: early - mid 20th Century
  • Materials: Animal horns, gourd, cowrie shells, traces of animal fur
  • Dimensions cm: 40 tall
  • Ref. Number: 0817
£ (SOLD)

Strikingly impressive rare Igala Horned Helmet, with its smooth curvaceous animal horns fixed on either side of a gourd, decorated with a painted on pattern/design, carved out to fit the top of the head, adorned with cowrie shells that run around both the rim and across the top of the gourd, traces of animal fur creating an interesting helmet headdress. In Africa helmets were traditional used not only as protection by also as a show of rank and status.

Provenance : ex Dr. Desmond Morris Collection, purchased Sotherbys 1969

Gurunsi ,Kassena Nakana District, Nord du Ghana:
Igala warriors helmet worn by a young boy


The Igala also spelled Igara are an ethnic group of Nigeria. The home of the Igala people is situated east of the river Niger and Benue. The traditional Igala society is largely agrarian, although fishing is also a mainstay the Igala have been primarily an agricultural people, growing a wide range of crops typical of the area, including yams, taro, pumpkins, squash, corn (maize), manioc, and peanuts (groundnuts). Palm oil and kernels have become significant as cash crops of the people especially the Igala’s of the riverine Idah area. The Igala before the 19th century inhabited the entire triangular tract of territory on the left bank of the Benue and Niger.  Settlements of the Igala speaking peoples were also located on the right bank of the Niger below the confluence opposite Etobe.

Their language belongs to the Benue-Congo branch of the Niger-Congo family. Their ruler, the ata, traditionally also governed two other groups, the Bassa Nge and the Bass Nkome, who live between the Igala and the Benue River.

Traditional Igala society was politically organized as a kingdom. Kings were divine and were surrounded by numerous taboos; they held elaborate courts attended by a host of officials and servants, many of them slaves and eunuchs. All divine kingdoms in Africa had customs that acted as checks on the power of the king. This included a custom in which the queen mother could chastise the king; she was the only individual who was able to do so under the taboo system.

The origin of IGALA Who is an Attah of Igala

The origin of IGALA Who is an Attah of Igala ?Attah means father, he is the father of Igala people. The institution started only with the Igala but later became a household name with even amongst other tribes.
Attah institution was fashioned after God. He was said to have absolute powers. Just as God is supreme and his decision is final so was Attah before colonial rule. The women greet him:- Amideju, mideju, ami leku, mileku. (if Attah says I should live, I live, if he say I should die, I die). All Attahs profess this that they are creatures of God and that they themselves are gods. In the palace (court) of Attah, no false witness comes there even up till today. If they do, something mysterious happens to the person that he would be recognized as a false witness.
No witches or wizard flies over Opu Attah ( Attah’s palace). Often a time witches that tried fell down and turned into naked human beings or half human. Those who deliberately went after married women up till date cannot pass Opuata at night time; they will be bitten by a snake that will not be healed.
The institution was founded on good virtues and democratic principles: onu noja nonu (that is, the king owns the people and the people own the king). It is a seat of government of equity, justice and fair play. Being fashioned after God, they also behave like God; they command blessings rain to fall, bountiful harvest and healthy living of the people. The origin of IGALA Who is an Attah of Igala

Igala map