Ijo / Ijaw Water Spirit Headdress

The Ijaw Ijo water spirit headdress is used in the masquerades of the Ekine men’s society (also Sekiapu).

Tribe: Ijaw / Ijo

Origin: Nigeria, Niger Delta region

Approx Age: Early – Mid 20th Century

Materials: Wood, material

Dimensions cm: 72 long x 29 wide

Ref. Number: 1328


A stunning horizontal worn Ijaw Ijo water spirit headdress or mask. Comprising of 3 anthropomorphic faces on a plank type structure with overlapping snake like bodies underneath the main feature. This came from an old UK collection and has been loved, due to cleaning has caused a shiny patina. The rear of the piece has material bound to the rim of the headdress for comfort whilst wearing on the top of the head..

Provenance: Ex UK private Collection.


Mask traditions within the Ijaw / Ijo are numerous and can be very different from one area to another.
Distinguishing between two kinds of spirits of the Ijaw, linked to their natural environment:
– the spirits of brouse the Bou Oru
– the water spirits, Bini Oru
The water spirits are always described as beautiful beings, clear skin and flowing hair.

Water deities are perceived to be the forces ultimately responsible for individual acquisition of wealth and power. Among the Kalabari, an Ijo subgroup that occupies the eastern part of the delta, one of the most important village institutions is the Ekine society, an association devoted to the dancing of masquerades representing water spirits. It is claimed that these performances imitate dances of the water spirits themselves, and the masks sometimes exit or enter from the water. Often the masquerade headpieces are designed so that the principal features face the sky and are visible to spectators only when the dancer bends forward.

This water spirit headdress is used in the masquerades of the Ekine men’s society (also Sekiapu). The headdresses worn in such performances blend the features of humans and aquatic animals (such as the hippopotamus) or fish. Although they are worn with a cloth and palm costume that covers the entire body, the headdress is the key element which is conceived of as the seat of the masquerade spirit’s “owner.” Ekine performances constitute a highly appreciated form of entertainment and invoke local water spirits for assistance and guidance. Skilled performers gain status in the community and are also the arbitrators of personal disputes.

Source: Met Museum

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