Water spirit headdress

Western Ijo peoples
c. 1930–1950
more object details

General Description

This mask of a water spirit (bini oru) originated among the Ijo people who live along the waterways of the Niger River's inland delta. Water spirits are believed to provide entertainment on secular occasions, accompany the dead to the Afterlife, participate in purification ceremonies to sweep towns clean of pollution, and accompany enshrined spirits back to their abodes after they have been invoked to punish criminals or settle disputes. Playful and kind beings, water spirits bestow success on those who show them respect. They are credited with inventing masking and particular masquerades.

When water spirits wish to manifest themselves on land, they communicate through diviners or in the dreams of ordinary people. Such individuals must commission a mask and stage a masquerade or risk misfortune. The water spirit tells its sponsor or the sculptor how the elements on the headdress should look. For example, the forms on this headdress are abstract: a quasi-human face, the stern of a canoe, the mouth of a hippopotamus or crocodile surmounted by a slithering snake, and attached appendages. It is worn on top of the head so it faces the sky. The costume may be made of dark or colorful cloth with attachments that conceal the dancer's head and body.

Adapted from

  • Roslyn A. Walker, Label text, 2015.

  • Roslyn A. Walker, DMA unpublished material, 2008.

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