Igbo Okoroshi Ojo Mask

Okoroshi masks are used in ceremonies to honor the water-spirit Owu, an important figure in Igbo spiritual life.

Igbo Okoroshi Oma Mask

Tribe: Igbo

Origin: Nigeria

Approx Age: 1950-60s

Materials: Wood

Dimensions cm: 31 x 20

Ref. Number: 1792


A very interesting Igbo Okoroshi Ojo Mask. The “Oma” masks, which are considered female, have finely-carved, regular features, are painted white, and represent the beauty, refinement and graciousness of civilization, yet the “Ojo” masks, in contrast, are painted black and on occasion, in red, they are considered to be male, ugly and embody the unruly, aggressive and powerful forces of untamed nature. This mask was originally black and has been repainted at a later date in red.

Provenance: Collected by Ian J McLeod in the 1970s from Ijebu-Igbo in the state of Ogun, Nigeria


Igbo Okoroshi masks are earthly manifestations of the Owu water spirit cult, worn during the six-week rainy season, they are said to descend from the clouds,  the female spirits Okoroshioma (oma = “good, beautiful”) from benign white cumulous clouds, the dark spirits, Okoroshiojo (Ojo = “ugly, bad, wicked”) from threatening dark rain clouds. Their six weeks of activity is meant to stimulate the productivity of growing yams and fertile women, and to prepare the community for the eating of New Yam, just after the masking season terminates and the spirits return to their cloud homes in the sky. Okoroshi “marks the calendar,” as people say. Four or five white female maskers dance only in clear daylight and usually in large plazas for, it is hoped, large audiences.

 Most days in this masking season are populated by many dark masks… as many as seventy or eighty might come out, many of them repeatedly, in the daytime or at night, mildly harassing people, especially women.

Most masks are danced by young men; dozens of dark masks can appear in one season. They have a great variety of names in many categories: varied human types such as strongman, spy, challenging, witch, traveller; animals such as leopard, snake, rat, hawk,  and porcupine.

—-Igbo, by Herbert Cole.


Photo was taken by Herbert M Cole 1982

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