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Water Spirit Headdress

African Art

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Water Spirit Headdress

Artwork Details


Ijo, Abua, or Ekpeye Artist, Nigeria


Twentieth century


Polychrome wood and mirrors

Accession #



80 1/4 inches


Currently Not on View


In the Niger Delta region of coastal Nigeria, masquerade performances honor water spirits thought to be helpful, kind, and beautiful. These aquatic spirits reside in rivers, lakes, and other bodies of water. They are most abundant along the coast, where trade flourished and traditions were influenced heavily by the influx of foreign cultures, especially European. Water spirits are considered to be much more amiable to humans than their terrestrial counterparts—playful and mischievous rather than intimidating. Masquerade performances imitate water spirits cavorting on floats and skimming across the surface of the water. In contrast to the darker colors representative of land spirits thought to be dangerous, the white color of this mask is associated with peace, purity, and longevity. Its composite form combines crocodile teeth and the fins and tail of a large fish, decorated with mirrors and yellow pigment.


Purchase with funds from Fred and Rita Richman

Image Copyright

Photo: Peter Harholdt