By Mary Nooter Roberts
University of California, Los Angeles

Nigeria; Ibibio peoples

Idiok Ekpo (mask)


H. 24.2 cm (9.5")

University of Iowa Stanley Museum of Art, The Stanley Collection, X1986.470

Among peoples who were not ruled by a single individual, both art and society were often more democratic, vesting authority in the hands of a council or an association of social control. In the Ekpo society of the Ibibio peoples of southeastern Nigeria, decisions made by groups of men (usually the oldest in the family) were carried out by younger men delegated as officials or police. When a person in the community had committed a particularly heinous crime, the elders might send out a group of younger men disguised in masks that the Ibibio themselves found grotesque and frightening. Such Ibibio masks represent people animated with the crippling disease, yaws, that eats away the cartilage of the nose, mouth, and eyes, and may produce facial paralysis. Ibibio officials carried out the punitive orders of the society council under the protection of anonymity, so that the family of the sentenced criminal could not seek revenge on any individual.