Female Initiation

By Allen F. Roberts
University of California, Los Angeles (formerly University of Iowa)

Nigeria; Igbo artist

Ogbodo Enyi (spirit elephant) mask

Wood, pigment

H. 51.44 cm (20 1/4")

University of Iowa Stanley Museum of Art, The Stanley Collection of African Art, X1986.396

Very rarely, art forms are shared between women and boys' initiation. Ogbodo Enyi masquerades among Igbo people of Nigeria are an example. Ogbodo Enyi means “Spirit Elephant” and stands for strength and resolution. The mask is constructed so that the phallic trunk is all the more obvious, conceptually useful, and, in this case, talismanic (Cole 1992: 215). Bonnie Weston reports that in 1975 when an epidemic killed many 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 now-female masks chase young men, just as male dancers used to harass young women. Female Ogbodo Enyi performances bring the oracle's powers of fertility and healing to the fore, and members of the audience ask for protection and favors (Weston 1984: 157-8).