Ibibio Idiok Mask

Among the Ibibio and other groups in southern Nigeria, colours refer to character, not to actual skin pigmentation. The dark colour and features of this mask connote antisocial, ritually impure, negative traits. 

Ibibio Ekpo Society Mask

Tribe: Ibibio

Origin: Nigeria, Cross River

Approx Age: 1940-50

Materials: Wood & Pigment

Dimensions cm: 32 long x 17 wide

Ref. Number: 1707

£1800.00

Description:
A nice old and rare example of an Ibibio Ekpo society mask known as an Idiok mask. This does show old insect invasion to the rear of the mask but it is not present now. A rare form of Ibibio mask, it depicts the sever effects of the gangosa disease, gangosa eats away all the cartilage and soft tissue to the nose and upper lip. Bite stick to the rear of the mask and has an uneven surface covering, and the odd nail here and there.

Provenance: Ex-Private collection, UK

Additional images

History

Many Ibibio Ekpo society masks depict a human skull, with empty eye sockets and lipless mouth, as in this example, or they depict the ravaged features of a sufferer of gangosa, which progressively eats away the soft palate, the cartilage of the nose, and the upper lip (see The University of Iowa Museum of Art, The Stanley Collection, X1986.187).  Ibibio informants state that the masks are intended to inspire fear in the beholder (Simmons 1957: 17).

Among the Ibibio and other groups in southern Nigeria, colours refer to character, not to actual skin pigmentation. The dark colour and features of this mask connote antisocial, ritually impure, negative traits.  

The Ibibio have lived in the Cross River area of modern-day Nigeria for several hundred years, and while written information about them only exists in colonial records from the late 1800s on, oral traditions have them in the region much earlier than this. The Ibibio actively resisted colonial invasions, and it was not until after the end of World War I that the British were able to gain a strong foothold in the region. Even at this time, however, the British found it necessary to make use of Ibibio Ekpo society traditions in order to impose indirect rule in the region.

Individual villages are ruled by Ekpo Ndem Isong (a group of village elders) and the heads of extended families. Their decisions are enforced by members of the Ekpo society who act as messengers of the ikan (ancestors). Ekpo members are always masked when performing their policing duties, and although their identities are almost always known, fear of retribution from the ancestors prevents most people from accusing those members who overstep their social boundaries, effectively committing police brutality. Membership is open to all Ibibio males, but one must have access to wealth to move into the politically influential grades.

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