Art from the Ijo Spirit World

by Martha G. Anderson
Alfred University

Amu gele masquerade at annual purification rites. Ekowe, Bomo clan. Central Ijo peoples, Nigeria, 1979. Photo by Martha G. Anderson.


Masking and ritual typically mark critical stages in the agricultural cycle.  The Ijo determine their calendar by watching the Niger's stages; they consider the lunar month that follows the floodwaters' crest to be a dangerous period, because the spirits who protect them leave their shrines and are not susceptible to offerings.  Sacrifices must be staged to clear away pollution left by the floods before planting can begin, and others may be necessary during the dry season, because this is the time when villages are most vulnerable to epidemics.  The Wonyinghi and Lake Adigbe festivals follow this pattern, as do the raffia masquerades, which appear at New Year festivals in some Ijo villages.  These ephemeral constructions travel from one end of town to another to sweep it clean.  Like both wooden and cloth masks, they represent water spirits.  The Ijo also consider other rites performed by diviners, including zibe bari and bouyou seimo, to be sacrifices.