Face mask (igri)

Igbo peoples, Ada group
mid–20th century
more object details

General Description

Among the Ada and related Igbo subgroups, the annual njenji masquerade ushers in the festival season. It is held on the first day of a four-day event that moves from village to village and is arranged by an age-grade comprised of males in their late 20s. The initiates demonstrate their organizational skills and ability to obtain the cooperation of others as a test of manhood. The njenji masquerade, which is performed by males, represents historical and present-day characters including, among others, pubescent girls and married women, male and female couples, scholars, Christians, Muslims, and slaves. Traditionally, indigenous characters walk at the front of the parade carrying machetes and shields, while those wearing Islamic dress or Western clothing carrying modern accessories, such as briefcases, bring up the rear. The modern costumes and behavior of the maskers present a satirical commentary on changes that occurred in Igboland under British rule. The masquerade also stresses male adulthood.

Igri masks represent vigorous and exuberant young men who clear the parade route and protect the maskers that follow them, especially those wearing the traditional costumes of married women and beautiful pubescent girls. The Dallas mask exemplifies a type that is distinguished by a tall, rectangular forehead rising up from a long facial plane and is decorated with incised and painted geometric patterns. Missing from the mask are bundles of raffia that were laid horizontally one above the other and bound together at the top of the mask, which is further adorned with leaves, plaited palm fronds, and porcupine quills. To complete the outfit, a masker wears a woven halter over his bare chest, a feline animal skin on his back and around his upper arm, a short raffia skirt, ankle rattles, and one or more rows of plastic beads around his neck and hips. His accessories include a wrestling bell, a machete in its sheath, and a special shield made of sticks of raffia. Igri's dance is described as that of an exuberant youth.

Adapted from

  • Roslyn A. Walker, The Arts of Africa at the Dallas Museum of Art (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2009), 126-127.

  • Roslyn A. Walker, Label text, Arts of Africa, 2015.