Maiden Spirit Masks

Maiden spirit masks are used primarily for entertainment in the Awka region. They are considered the “incarnate dead” who protect the living and promote abundant harvests, large families, and a general sense of prosperity. They may also perform at second burials of powerful elders.

The annual Fame of Maidens festival features Agbogho mmwo, representing adolescent females who demonstrate feminine beauty. Many of the masks that ended up in British and American museums were collected during the colonial era and their styles reproduced heavily westernized/colonial notions of beauty. Many masks have light complexions, a thin straight nose, small mouth, and elaborately dressed hair. The facial tattoos draw attention to the features.

This mask shows sign of usage, though there are no holes for attachment and thus was probably never used according to historians. This was donated to the Pitt Rivers Museum.

Image Source: African Arts, Vol. 35, No. 1, Special Issue: The Niger Delta and beyond (Spring, 2002), UCLA James S. Coleman African Studies Center

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