The Fox, Grapes, and a Yoruba Horseman

I don’t know if anything hurts as much as having your heart set on grabbing a particular piece at an auction and then losing out. What makes it worse of course is being beaten down by an online entity while your’s truly is in the live audience. It’s the testosterone curse that seems to afflict men and women alike!!

Collecting Tribal African Art has opened up a new world of “tentative obsessions”, where I started with Dan and Fang masks, moved through Yoruba and Kuba, and currently I remain fixated on Igala and Izzi (Igbo) pieces. This is not to say that I’m not moved by the occasional bout of “ikenga” or “firespitter” weakness, but one learns to control (arguably) spend at some point.

E1 Ogbodo Enyi Mask, Izzi,  Nigeria

E1 Ogbodo Enyi Mask, Izzi, Nigeria

This “Ogbodo Enyi” is the mask I missed out on. From “Igbo Arts : Community and Culture” (1984) comes the following excerpt,

“The role of women in regard to Ogbodo Enyi has changed even more drastically in one area. In 1975 children of the Izzi village group Nkaliki began to die from illnesses attributed to unspecified “evil spirits”. Petitions presented to the community oracle, Uke, succeeded in dispelling these spirits, order between the human and supernatural realms was restored and the deaths stopped. However in return for its intercession and patronage, the oracle, in a dream to its priestess, made an extraordinary and unique request. Uke asked Nkaliki women to organize and dance Ogbodo Enyi in its honor. Now well established throughout Nkaliki, the women’s masquerade represents a complete departure from all known Igbo (and other Nigerian) masking traditions- traditions that dictate all such activities as exclusively male perogatives.”

E2 Yoruba Head Crest, Nigeria

E2 Yoruba Head Crest, Nigeria

Cue the Yoruba horseman. I absolutely had no intention of bidding on this piece, (especially since it was listed before the Ogbodo Enyi), but it is one of those pieces that show a well proportioned perspective that appealed to me. The problem is that if one does enough research, gets hung up on patinas enough, and clings to the altar of provenance, one is apt to miss out on appreciating certain pieces based on the simple criteria of their beauty or “presence”.

E1,E2 Photo Credits : Willis Henry Auctions, American Indian & Ethnographic Art Auction 052613


5 Responses to The Fox, Grapes, and a Yoruba Horseman

  1. Ed Jones says:

    Regarding the inaccurate, (half-baked) and plagiarized statements concerning the inventive history of the Izzi-Igbo ‘Ogbodo Enyi’ (Spirit) Elephant Mask, perhaps one should do more accurate and honest research and a credible assessment instead of entirely misleading omissions from Herbet M.Cole’s book titled Igbo Art: Community and Cosmos (as most African Art books pathetic versions)…
    The Spanish Influenza Pandemic of 1917–19, striking Nigeria in west-central Africa and resulting in the deaths of at least 512,000 people. Afterward influenza broke out almost annually in isolated regions, such as the towns of Ibi and Kano, in the country’s north.
    In September 1918, the viral infection first occurred in Lagos, Nigeria’s capital, largest city, and chief port, where it was brought by sick ocean-liner passengers and armed- service personnel returning from Europe. Advanced medical facilities helped reduce fatalities from the Spanish flu in Lagos. However, it spread quickly into the neighboring southern provinces, where about 250,000 human deaths were eventually recorded; in a great many cases of flu, complications such as pneumonia, bronchitis, and heart problems occurred, along with the usual symptoms of head colds, high fevers, chills, and aching bones and muscles.
    In Benin province, where many fled from the disease into the bush, there were sometimes not enough people to bury the dead. Their flight also helped spread the flu to the bush, where many stricken natives died along roadsides or in canoes found drifting at sea. Camphor and Islamic amulets were often worn to ward off the disease. Sacrifices were offered in the town of Abaja to ward off the spirits thought to carry the flu to the Igbo natives there, where nine out of 10 villagers were stricken. Many Igbo children born during that time were named “Ogbe Infelunze.”
    After flourishing about four to six weeks in each particular Nigerian village or town, influenza subsided and then vanished. Authorities have estimated that probably 32 per 1,000 Nigerians perished from flu during the epidemic, which is considered one of Nigeria’s worst disasters.
    Now, linking this epidemic to the Igbo-Izi (Spirit) Elephant Masks / Masquerades:
    Called ‘Ogbodo Enyi’, (Spirit) Elephant masks / masquerades were a symbol of strength and clarity for the community. It has been centuries since elephants roamed Nigeria, and this type of abstracted image of that creature is the result of verbal description rather than artistic license. When an epidemic killed many Igbo-Izzi children, a local oracle offered a successful course of healing. The oracle asked that women dance ‘Ogbodo Enyi’ to show their gratitude. In subsequent years, community women have demonstrated their social identity through their own masquerades. The original female masks chase young men, just as male dancers used to harass young women. Now-a-days, most ‘Ogbodo Enyi’ masking has been taken over by men — including initiate grades, and both men and women must display the ability of endurance and strength to “masquerade”. The purpose and intent has supposedly evolved far from the original intent as a “healing mask” — especially to save their children from the affects of the Spanish Influenza sickness (pandemic). Masking through-out sub-Saharan Africa has evolved, as the Western scholarly fables and myths continue.

    • Since the sources for the items under question have been identified, and no attempt made to credit myself or this organization with their creation (or the basic ideas) it seems your accusations of plagiarism are pretty obscure and inaccurate. As to the research for the ‘Ogbodo Enyi’ it would seem that what is written refers specifically to that aspect of women dancing the mask. This is quite separate from the original dancing of the mask. The point of the article was not the mask itself, or it’s creation, but the fact that I missed getting it. Your information is useful, but I try not to regurgitate stuff that anyone can just copy or find on the web. That’s what Google’s for :0).

      • Ed Jones says:

        You are not correct … The info I supplied. Indeed, this function I described is certainly not separate from the original “dancing” of the mask. And, indeed, the “point” of the article was the mask itself (as you show an illustration of a late era example, as well as a description).

        Meandering around the subject only destroys your credibility.

        Perhaps, you should work to identify historical and all purpose behind items published on your website. There are clearly enough tritely “armchair armatures” out there – funny, you mention Google. Kindly stated, there is not much scholarly (and very little basic accuracy) about the subject of African “art” included on your blog.

      • 1. I confess I have never purchased Tribal African Art based on a scholarly ranking ?? Truth be told, while some of the artisans in question (copiers included) are very good at their craft I suggest that they weren’t into scholarly pursuits either.
        2. The contents of the blog are not “academic papers”… they are simply ‘well’ written essays with references.
        3. Yes … I eventually managed to snag a great Ogbodo Enyi on the cheap and picked up a poor piece as well – that’s just how I roll …. works for me 😊

  2. Ed Jones says:

    Please allow me to clarify; I did not mean to imply anything about quality or aesthetic appeal – aside from dating the photo of your mask. The earliest style of Ogbodo Enyi (1920s-1930s) is quite different in style. So, I was indicating by era that ones with heads and faces on the rear are identifiable as known later examples. These masks have evolved, and their “supposed function has also, and one would receive conflicting data if visiting with queries in the regions o SE Nigeria. Anyway, there is nothing wrong with yours. I have a photo of a very early archetype, if you want to see it.

    An appreciation for masking and figurative carvings is not predicated on “cheap, vis a vis expensive (or even vetted / genuine) ones, right? In reality, used ones are very difficult to come by these days.

    You are correct about “scholarly ranking” … Not my interest, but proven historical relevance is. Culturally fashionable trends and “collection popularity” are equally problematic.

    With respect to “2.” … Okay. Yet, there can be a very fine (almost invisible line) between a well written and academic paper, even for blog content.

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