Face mask (obo)

Edo peoples
20th–mid 20th century
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General Description

This mask personifies the spirit of a great native doctor. Its stylized human face was originally painted black with white on the horns, eye sockets, and teeth. The superstructure depicts animal horns and medicine bottles that contain magical ingredients. In contrast to the king-focused court art from the ancient Edo Kingdom that is found in the African Galleries on Level 3, the art of villages outside the capital focused on the veneration of deities, which were associated with rebel warriors and fugitive queens who fled the court and transformed themselves into rivers, lakes, and hills. When disease invaded one rebel warrior’s village, the Ekpo spirit appeared to him in a dream and told him how to combat it and keep the village in a state of ritual purity: install a shrine to the spirit and create a masquerade for healthy young men to perform. The dancers were to wear a variety of masks representing named “characters,” including venerated ancestors, great native doctors, village chiefs, warriors, animals, and, in the future, modern policemen and revered British colonial administrators.