Mambila ‘Nsua-Ndua’ Mask

Masks and statues were kept hidden from the eyes of women in a net hung on the inside of a hut that was on stilts; it was guarded by the head of the family. 

Mambila Dog mask

Tribe: Mambila

Origin: Nigeria / Cameroon

Approx Age: 1950s

Materials: Wood

Dimensions cm: 48 long x 26 widest point

Ref. Number: 1544


A rare and very charismatic Mambila Nsua-Ndua mask or more commonly known as Suaga masks. This is a really nice old and a well-used piece, please take time to view the photos, this is lovely. This carved wood mask does not represent a single, identifiable animal. It is composed of elements from different animals and represents a “bush spirit, ” emphasizing that it has no counterpart on earth. It is a thing of the “bush” – and things of the bush are male and ungovernable. The mask represents a hybrid animal and bears some of the classic details of a bovine and a dog’s head. This mask is wonderful for its creativity. The top of the mask is punctuated by eyes treated with great originality. The patina is a brown crusty grey. 

Provenance: Ex-Private collection, United Kingdom. Collected in situ 1960s

Additional images


Mambila art centres upon an association called suaga. It is primarily concerned with justice and supernatural cleansing within the community. The Mambila produced a considerable number of figures that are characterized by a heart-shaped face; pigments are often applied later. Mambila figures embody ancestors who, according to their beliefs, are responsible for the clan’s wealth. The figures appear with bent legs and typical enlarged head outlined in wooden pegs. Mambila also makes highly stylized animal masks.

Masks and statues were kept hidden from the eyes of women in a net hung on the inside of a hut that was on stilts; it was guarded by the head of the family. The front wall of the hut was decorated with two figures, male on the right and female on the left, crowned by a rainbow and framed by the sun and the moon. Dancers celebrating the beginning and end of the agricultural cycle are led by a tribesman wearing a Cephalomorphic helmet mask. He is often followed by a retinue of assistants wearing secondary masks in the shape of stylized animal heads, usually dog’s or crows. In general, women are excluded from these masquerades, both as actors and as spectators. Women dressed in rags and vegetation present their own version of the masquerade at a different time and place.

Labour is divided between men and women, and children begin to work at the age of twelve. A society of mutual assistance, the kurum, participates in clearing land, harvesting, and building houses and facilitates social contacts during celebrations and dances. The men are in charge of weaving cotton, metal- and woodworking, and braiding fibre. Merchants and blacksmiths are separated from the rest of the community. The trade is passed from father to son. They practice the ancestor cult and agrarian rites. The Mambila only worshipped family ancestors. According to their beliefs, at one’s death, the ancestors take away the soul of the deceased during the night. The chiefs of the lineage were buried in granaries, for they are representative of prosperity and life, just as the grains of millet.

Suaga Mask Mambila

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