This rare mask is for Igbile, a cult devoted to a water spirit, which, among the Edo, seems to be found only in Ughoton, the traditional river port for the kingdom of Benin. Igbile is one of several Edo village cults; that is, it is not associated directly with the Benin king and his court in the capital. These village cults are dedicated to the health and well-being of community members and include annual ceremonies that involve the purification of the village and its protection from evil.
This particular example is one of seven or eight confiscated by the British in 1897, the year of the infamous British Punitive Expedition. When the British landed in Ushoton, villagers brought out the masks with the hope of enlisting spiritual powers in driving away the expedition that was later to sack the kingdom’s capital and take the king prisoner.
Edo peoples, Nigeria
Wood, incrustation, pigment, fiber
L. 24 in. (62.2 cm)
Sidney and Lois Eskenazi Museum of Art, Raymond and Laura Wielgus Collection, 78.11.2