Nsibidi, Igbo, and Ekpe

I recently came across an Igbo helmet mask (Ben Matros collection) which had some brief comments attached.

Igbo, Ekpe, and Idoma…. collected 1966.

Collecting African Tribal Art sometimes requires some level of research since there are many copies and replicas made for sale to collectors.

Some research indicated that Idoma was perhaps not in play since there were not many examples of Janus (or multifaced) masks in use. Alternatively they were more common in Igbo theatre to the point where a popular central character (‘Asufu’) was a four faced helmet mask. Idoma masquerades by contrast use many headcrests, or single faced masks.

A similar mask at the LA County Museum of Art was also listed as Igbo. The two faces showed less wear,

The two masks displayed Nsibidi symbols referencing ‘love’ and ‘meeting’ (see below).

On Nsibidi:

Source:

http://www.taneter.org/writing.html

Nsibidi is an ancient script used to communicate in various languages in West Central Africa. Most notably used by the Uguakima and Ejagham (Ekoi) people of Nigeria and Cameroon, Nsibidi is also used by the nearby Ebe, Efik, Ibibio, Igbo, and Uyanga people.

The script is believed to date back to 5000 BC, but the oldest archaeological evidence ever found dates it to 2000 BC (monoliths in Ikom, Nigeria). Similar to the Kemetic Medu Neter, Nsibidi is a system of standardized pictographs.

Source:

Nsibidi

Nsibidi is not an alphabet but something more compressed, more graphic — more poetic, in a sense. Technically, it is an ideographic writing system, whose more than one thousand symbols (drawn in the air as gestures, drawn on the ground, drawn on skin as tattoos, or drawn on calabashes, swords, masks and textiles) don’t correspond to a single language but refer to concepts, actions or things that can be understood by people speaking a variety of different languages.

Source:

https://allafrica.com/stories/201904140066.html

Strangely, Nsibidi and the Egyptian Hieroglyphics share some characters. Like the Hieroglyphics, Nsibidi was taught to select secret groups that exuded power and authority. They were largely in control of the arms of government, hence its exclusivity. Among them is the Ekpe Leopard Secret Society. The Ekpe, still found in present-day Abia, are often seen wearing a particular clothing during formal events. This cloth is known as the Ukara Ekpe.

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