Wooden painted mask said to have come from a shrine in Benin devoted to Igbile, a river spirit. [ZM 05/06/2013]
Place details: W AFRICA. Nigeria / Benin ? Ughoton ?. Cultural Group: Edo Bini: Ijale Yoruba: Western Ijo: Local Name: Unknown. Materials: Wood Plant / Pigment / Cane Plant / ?. Processes: Carved / Painted / Basketry / Perforated / Bound / ?. Colour: Brown White Dimensions: H = 590 mm Max Diam [base] = 199 mm Field Collector: George le Clerc Egerton Benin City Punitive Expedition When Collected: 1897 PRM Source: Dumas-Egerton Trust Acquired: Loaned 1991 Related Collections: Field diary and photocopy of relevant sections of the collector's personal diary in PRM MS collections.
KEYWORD: Mask / CLASS: Mask / Religion / ?.
Object description: Wooden mask with crown, facial scarifications, chequered neck ornament and basketry base. Details painted white. Mask carved out of one piece of wood 540 mm in length with the base hollowed out. Around the base is a series of holes to which a basketry section is attached. According to Bernard Fagg said to come from a shrine at Benin devoted to Igbile, a river spirit (see publications). [ZM 05/06/2013]
Publications history, trails & websites: This object is almost certainly the one illustrated in a black and white photograph as plate 107 in Nigerian Images, by William Fagg (London: Lund Humphries, 1963). Caption (same page) reads: "BINI. A second Igbile mask, of which a rougher copy is still kept in the Igbile shrine at Ughoton. It seems that the devotees of Igbile, a river spirit, paraded the masks in 1897 in the hope of repelling the Expedition with supernatural aid. Height 21 1/4 inches. Egerton collection, Ringwood." The mask is also mentioned in the caption for plate 106, a photograph of another Bini mask, the text reads: "BINI. Wooden mask for the Igbile cult at Ughoton, the port of Benin. This and the next mask were among a group collected there by the the Benin Expedition in 1897, but they were then replaced by freshly carved masks which are still there and from which these were identified...Although they were carved by Bini, the style is that of the Western Ijo of the Delta, from whom the Ilaje Yoruba adopted it; from them it was imported, together with Ilaje songs, by the Bini." On page 9 Fagg classifies both masks, alongwith 'typical ancestor-cult carvings', as 'The Bini tribal style' rather than the Benin court style, further noting the Igbile masks are 'a remarkable style, borrowed from the Ijo through the Ilaje Yoruba, for the cult of the river spirit Igbile' (photocopy of relevant pages in the related documents file) [ZM 04/06/2013]
Research notes: The Dumas-Egerton Collection, of which this is part, was examined by Hermione Waterfield of Christie's in 1984, and a document, dated 7th December 1984, was produced with the title 'Part of the Nigerian Art Collected by Admiral Sir George Le Cler[c] Egerton on the Benin Expedition of 1897 on Deposit at Maidstone Museum' (see RDF). The entry for this object reads: 'A wood dance crest in the style of the Ijale Yoruba, with pierced quatrefoil headgear, tall chequered neck, cane base. 23 in. high.' [JC 19 10 2001 / 23 1 2002]
Collected at the same time as Egerton's Benin material (1991.13.1-35). [LMM ?]
Examined by Benin specialist Barbara Blackmun in July 1991. Blackmun suggests it is from the the Orobo people (formerly 'Sobo'), to the south of Benin. [LMM 7 1991 ?; JC 9 7 2000]
John Picton examined this mask during a consultation visit about the African masks on 20 August 2013 and noted the following: If this mask and the Ijo mask, 1938.15.40, are compared similarities are evident in the carving style, like the deep-set eyes and the shape of the mouth. This demonstrates how carving styles spread as the way the Edo mask is carved is said to be influenced by the Western Ijo of the Niger Delta. [ZM 21/08/2013]