Covered with raw indigo blue, this water spirit headdress is but one small reflection of the enigmatic underwater world of the Ijo peoples who live in the Niger Delta, Nigeria, West Africa. These deities of the watery universe are credited with introducing masks and dance masquerades to humans. The spirits can be harmful or benevolent depending on the amount of respect villagers give them, and they are believed to be angered most by a lack of dances being performed. Death can be the ultimate threat if villagers do not placate them with a masquerade. The masks are considered to be the embodiment of sacrifice, and appear at funerals to follow the deceased into the next life, at purification rituals to clean riverine settlements of pollution, and at festivals to call-off spirits after they have been called upon to solve criminal activity in a community.
This wonderful example is more human than divine, but is, nevertheless, not to be confused with a secular image; it represents an otherwise unseen spirit of the water which has entered dry land. Dating to the very early 20th century.
The headdress is 15" in length. Very fine condition with well-preserved pigment; wear and small losses appropriate for age and use. Provenance: Charles Davis, New Orleans, LA, early 1990's. Custom steel mount included.