Face mask (igri)

mid–20th century

Dallas Museum of Art

Dallas Museum of Art
Dallas, United States

Among the Ada and related Igbo subgroups, the njenji masquerade is an annual event that 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 twenties who demonstrate their organizational skills and ability to obtain the cooperation of others as a test of manhood. The initiates are also obligated to prepare a feast for village men older than themselves. Depending on the village, the parade and feast are held on the day before the initiation is to be completed or as the first project of the newly initiated men.(6)

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 like the standing female figure (p. 135). 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 (fig. 35). 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 and raffia.

In order to impersonate females properly, male maskers rely on their sisters, wives, mothers, or girlfriends to lend them the essential waistbeads or cloth for wrappers, shoes, purses, and the like. They also have to obtain the women's cooperation in preparing food for a feast in honor of the older men of the village. Despite their feminine appearance the female characters carry canes or sticks in their right hands—symbolic of masculine eldership—to remind the audience that the maskers are mature males.

The Arts of Africa at the Dallas Museum of Art, cat. 36, pp. 126-127.


6. Ottenberg, Simon. Masked Rituals of the Afikpo: The Context of an African Art. Seattle: University of Washington Press for the Hurst Art Gallery, 1975. pp. 147-169.


  • Title: Face mask (igri)
  • Date Created: mid–20th century
  • Physical Dimensions: Overall: 17 3/4 x 5 x 5 1/2 in. (45.08 x 12.7 x 13.97 cm)
  • Type: Costume
  • External Link: https://www.dma.org/object/artwork/5319774/
  • Medium: Wood, pigment, and raffia
  • culture: Igbo peoples, Ada group
  • Credit Line: Dallas Museum of Art, The Eugene and Margaret McDermott Art Fund, Inc.

Get the app

Explore museums and play with Art Transfer, Pocket Galleries, Art Selfie, and more

Flash this QR Code to get the app
Google apps