Art from the Ijo Spirit World

by Martha G. Anderson
Alfred University

Eleke embracing his priest during a performance. Korokorosei, Olodiama clan. Central Ijo peoples, Nigeria, 1992. Photo by Martha G. Anderson.      


Few masks wield real power, because most do not actually incarnate spirits; the handful that do usually serve judicial functions.  Eleke is renowned throughout the region for his effectiveness at punishing criminals; when someone invokes him, he begins killing off members of the culprit's family until the survivors agree to sponsor a costly, three-day performance.  One of Eleke's praise names, Waribaba-kiribaba, "The wicked one, killing both family and outsiders," alludes to the requirements for the peri warrior title awarded by the clan war god.  He sports eagle feathers and dances to the drums of the peri play with his priest, who wears the peri costume to signify the spirit's right to the status.  Eleke takes his name from a wicked type of dolphin, and he and his son wear headpieces with human features superimposed on fishlike forms; his slave's headpiece incorporates an upright anthropomorphic figure.  Even this deadly trio enjoys playing with their human friends.