Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Ancestral Headdress

19th–early 20th century or before
Nigeria, Middle Benue region
Jukun peoples
Wood, organic accretion
H. 45 × W. 12 × D. 12 in. (114.3 × 30.5 × 30.5 cm)
Credit Line:
Purchase, Pfeiffer, Leona Sobel Education, 2005 Benefit, and Dodge Funds; Gift of Dr. Mortimer D. Sackler, Theresa Sackler and Family; Andrea Bollt Bequest, in memory of Robert Bollt Sr. and Robert Bollt Jr.; Elaine Rosenberg, Laura and James J. Ross, and The Katcher Family Foundation Inc. Gifts, 2015
Accession Number:
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 352
This enigmatic and arresting creation of a Jukun sculptor active in central Nigeria’s Benue River Region was a kinetic ancestral sculpture. According to accounts gathered by researchers, such works were animated in performances devoted to agricultural rites as well as to those relating to initiation of young boys into adulthood. Access to those events was highly circumscribed. Women, children, and outsiders were not allowed to view those nocturnal apparitions.

The form is purported to have been manipulated by a person who used the lateral apertures to support and raise it. Perforations around the perimeter of the lower half allowed for the attachment of a vegetable fiber costume. The upper half distills an ancestral presence to essential features that are dramatically amplified. Crowning the summit is the majestic dome-like volume of the head. The eyes project in bold relief from the flat surface of the face and teeth are incised on the underside of the straight line of the mouth. At either side the flat discs of earflares favored by regional elites are emphasized. Adoption of Christianity and Islam during the first half of the twentieth century led to the abandonment of this minimally documented tradition.
[Philippe Guimiot, Belgium, collected in Cameroon, 1968 or 1969]; [Jacques Kerchache, Paris, by 1970, until 1994] ; a private collection, 1994–2015

Leuzinger, Elsy. Die Kunst von Schwarz-Afrika. Zurich: Kunsthaus Zürich, 1970, no. N29.

Berns, Marla C., Richard Fardon, and Sidney Littlefield Kasfir, eds. Central Nigeria Unmasked: Arts of the Benue River Valley. Los Angeles: Fowler Museum at UCLA, 2011, cat nos. 14.1, 14.7, pp. 446, 441.

Berns, Marla C. "Central Nigeria Unmasked: Arts of the Benue River Valley." Tribal Art no. 63 (Spring 2012), p. 55, fig. 15.

LaGamma, Alisa, Joanne Pillsbury, Yaëlle Biro, and James Doyle. "Recent Acquisitions: A Selection: 2014–2016." The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin (Fall 2016), pp. 72–73.

Related Objects


Date: 19th–20th century Medium: Wood, leather, metal, bone, fiber, pigment Accession: 1979.206.266 On view in:Gallery 352

Queen Mother Pendant Mask: Iyoba

Date: 16th century Medium: Ivory, iron, copper (?) Accession: 1978.412.323 On view in:Gallery 352

Headdress: Crocodile and Bush Cow (Eku)

Date: 1955 Medium: Wood, pigment Accession: 1978.412.462 On view in:Gallery 352

Headdress: Janus

Date: 19th–20th century Medium: Wood, pigment Accession: 1977.465 On view in:Gallery 352

Headdress: Spirit Elephant (Ogbodo Enyi)

Date: 19th–20th century Medium: Wood Accession: 1991.377.1 On view in:Gallery 352