Emboli (Forest Spirit Helmet Mask)

By: Adenike Cosgrove Tagged:

Only a few masks of this type still exist and little is known about its origins or use among the Kota or other small groups such as the Bushamaye.

In the Makokou region, however, such masks were worn in ceremonies to dispel disruptive forces and during witch hunts. They may also be worn during initiatives and certain funerals.

Masks of this type (called emboli, m’boli in the Mékambo region, or mboto mwa empoli, meaning ‘figure from Empoli’) are said to summon powerful forest spirits known as emboli. Emboli dancing is often performed wearing the helmet mask during circumcision rites. When not in use, the mask is held in a secret location away from the village.

Emboli masks are said to be notoriously difficult to age, though many were collected in the early 20th century showing minimal signs of use.

Distinguishing Features

  • Sagittal crest
  • Cylindrical helmet mask or a large encasing mask with bell-shaped upper skull cap
  • Many have a median ridge on forehead
  • Brows a pronounced continuous curved ridge/double arc
  • Protruding eyes and nose
  • Closed mouth often a simple slit
  • Rare examples are Janus-faced
  • Mask painted white with red, black, and ochre dots

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