Widekum Agwe Chaka Mask
Origin: Cameroon / Upper Cross River
Approx Age: 1950-60
Materials: Wood, skin, metal
Dimensions cm: approximately 51 x 30
Ref. Number: 1520
A large, rare Widekum Agwe Chaka mask, the Widekum live to the west of the grasslands in Cameroon and along the upper Cross River, on the border of Nigeria. The ‘Agwe Chaka’ is the only mask type of the Widekum people and represents an unpredictable spirit creature. It is carved from light-coloured wood, and the exterior is completely covered with dyed leather. The mask displays a helmet with a central crest, has outlined eyes, protruding ears and three, knob-like decorative scarification marks on each of its temples. The nose is short and slightly curved. The open mouth reveals metal teeth. There are some small tears to the leather.
Provenance: Ex private London Collection UK
According to the late Dr Keith Nicklin, this mask was worn during funerary rituals dedicated to members of the warrior society known as Nchibe. Stylistically, as opposed to the more naturalistic masks made by the Ekoi and related peoples, this mask portrays a more aggressive, fierce visage.
These large domed called ‘Agwe Chaka’ the chief type of mask associated with Nchibe, normally only appears during funeral ceremonies of prominent men. Nchibe members are very reluctant to show these masks to anyone outside of the Widekum, even when the customary “Dash” is offered for the privilege.
Before the Agwe Chaka mask is performed it is rubbed with palm oil until it glistens and the mouth and eyes are coated with kaolin. The masqueraded is dressed in secret by a few select persons and before it appears in public a libation of palm wine is poured and blown over him by the mouth of the officiating priest. The masquerader wears a large, loose embroidered gown and carries a special machete in his hand. A raffia bag stuffed with cloth under the gown gives a hunch back appearance.
Reference: Dr Keith Nicklin, from the article, “skin-covered masks of Cameroon”
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