Ibibio Mfon Mask

The most important of these societies is the Ekpo, which is responsible for the cult of the ancestors
Tribe: Ibibio

Origin: Cross River of Nigeria

Approx Age: 1970s

Materials: Wood, cowrie shells

Dimensions cm: 28 tall x 20 wide

Ref. Number: 1609


A fascinating Ibibio mask with an articulated jaw used for the Ekpo/Ekpe society. Unusual looking head detail with cowrie shell earrings, mostly covered in kaolin and has brown pigmentation the scarifications’. eyes, nose, ears and lips, quite sinister in appearance.

Provenance: Helmut und Marianne Zimmer, Zürich.

Additional images


 In Ibibio ceremonies, two main types of mask appear. The first, known as Mfon, has an articulated jaw and represents a ‘beautiful’ spirit who has attained eternal bliss. The second mask, called Idiok, is thought to represent a hell-dwelling spirit and is carved with a typical emaciated face, possibly alluding to ill-health.” 

Masks and accoutrements of the Ekpo society make up the greatest works of art in Ibibio society. Drumming and music are also important elements in Ekpo ceremonies. The wooden sculpture from this area is also very detailed, and artists are just as likely to capture beauty as they are the hideous forms of evil spirits.

Secret societies, both male and female, are prominent in Ibibio village organization. Membership in the Ekpe (Egbo), or Leopard, society, for example, available to wealthy men who can meet the expense involved, confers high social status and political authority; these men participate in ceremonies concerned…

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.

Ibibio religion is based on paying tribute to the village ancestors. Failing to appease these ancestors will result in the wrath of the Ekpo society. The most important ancestors are those who achieved high rank while living, usually the house heads. They may control the fortunes of the descendants and are free to afflict those who fail to make the proper offering or those who fail to observe kinship norms. Ala is the earth deity and is appeased through Ogbom ceremony, which is believed to make children plentiful and to increase the harvest. It is performed in the middle of the year, every eighth day for eight weeks by each section of the village in turn.


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