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Lot 327 - Headdress with male face - Ekoi (Ejagham), Nigeria, Cross-River Area

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Headdress with male face
Ekoi (Ejagham), Nigeria, Cross-River Area
wooden core, conical-shaped neck, coated with skin (presumably antelopes leather), the opening of eyes and mouth left out, arching brows, the eyes inset with tin sheet, the pupils worked separately (metal tags), remains of metal teeth, raised scarification marks on forehead, temples and cheeks, curved hair line in one row trimmed with tufts of human hair, forming a chin beard as well, cavity for insertion of magical material at the back of the head, cord material backside (remains of a costume ?), slightly dam., tears in the skin (nose bridge, corners of the mouth), traces of old insect caused damage (back of the head), minor missing parts and abrasion (neck area), on blocklike base; in former times these dance crests were said to have been made of real human skulls from killed enemies. They were exhibited on special trophee parades, worn by young men as a sign of manliness. In areas whose population was constantly under the threat of raids, clan feuds, tribal warfare or slave hunts it comes as no surprise that the skill of a young man in combat was measured by this kind of practice.
Lateron the real skulls were subsituted by wooden replicas.
There was a transition form a trophies cult to a cult of skulls/ancestors.
Correspondingly they were no longer used for war masquerades but at initiation rites and in funeral ceremonies.
The headdresses have a realistic, but not a portrayal character. They do not represent one specific ancestor. In fact they were handed down from one generation to another, thus - as a whole - embodying the nobel doings of every ancestor, who ever possessed it.
The use of human skin for coating the wooden core is just vaguely proved, commonly the skins of antelope, ape or sheep were used. The fur was shaved and smoothened by putting it into floating water for some days. Then it was fixed on the wood-carved head by small bamboo plugs (three of them still can be seen at the back of the head) and additionally wrapped up with plant fibre. After about one week of drying the plugs were removed.
The skin-covered headdresses were used - among others - by the «ngbe»-society of the Ejagham, which can be looked upon as the oldest Cross River secret society. In their language «ngbe» means «leopard». The cult of the leopard had a unifying effect on the scattered communities of the Cross River Area.
Influence of the Boki recognizable.
H: 28 cm

Coll. Rolf Gillhausen, Hamburg, Germany
Gallery Simonis, Düsseldorf, Germany

Published in:

Lit.: Naturkunde-Museum Coburg, Afrikanische Frauen, Coburg 1999, p. 31
Röschenthaler, Ute, Die Kunst der Frauen, Zur Komplementarität von Nacktheit und Maskierung bei den Ejagham im Südwesten Kameruns, Berlin 1993, p. 229 f.
A. Mansfeld, Urwald-Dokumente, Vier Jahre unter den Crossflussnegern Kameruns, Berlin 1908, p. 151-153; Dr. Schädler, Karl-Ferdinand, Ekoi, München 1982
Thompson, Robert Farris, African Art in Motion, Icon and Act, University of California Press, Los Angeles, Berkeley, London, 1974, p. 175, plate 211 f.

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