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19th–20th century
Nigeria, Lower Cross River region
Ejagham peoples
Wood, leather, metal, bone, fiber, pigment
H. 10 15/16 x W. 6 x D. 7 1/4 in. (27.9 x 15.2 x 18.4 cm)
Credit Line:
The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, Bequest of Nelson A. Rockefeller, 1979
Accession Number:
  • Description

    In the southeastern forest region of Nigeria, village groupings are small and politically decentralized. Headdresses covered with leather are made by many different peoples living in villages along the Cross River and in Cameroon. These exceptional headdresses are owned by associations whose members are men or women of the same generation; membership is often further restricted to those who have performed certain feats or are proficient in particular skills. In the past, for example, there were associations of hunters who had killed leopards.

    The headdresses, which bear the same name as the society that owns them, are worn during funerals and initiations. Some are startlingly naturalistic and may be portraits of known individuals; others are highly stylized. There are three overall types: helmet masks that cover the wearer's head entirely, masks that cover only the face, and headdresses that, like this one, are attached to basketry caps worn on top of the head.

    To make a headdress, the artist carves the form from a single piece of wood and covers it with soft, untanned antelope skin that has been soaked in water for several days. He stretches, binds, and pegs the skin into place until it dries and stiffens. Eyes, scarifications, and hair are often carved separately and pegged into the finished piece. Before it is worn, the headdress is painted or colored, then adorned with porcupine quills, feathers, or feathered rods stuck into holes at the top.

  • Provenance

    [Gallery 43, London, until 1964]; Nelson A. Rockefeller, New York, 1964, on loan to The Museum of Primitive Art, New York, 1964–1978

  • See also
    In the Museum
    Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History