Lang Gbadna (Bush Spirit Helmet Mask)

By: Adenike Cosgrove Tagged:


The Chamba of Nigeria are divided into clans and chiefdoms, each of which is associated with a Vara (skull) cult of deceased ancestors. The cult celebrates and worships ancestors and the protective bush spirit of the community — the skulls of past chiefs are preserved and honoured to ensure the welfare, prosperity and fertility of the whole community.

Associated with the Vara cult, masked performers dance during the funerals of important chiefs and cult members, during circumcision and Vara initiation rites of young boys and also during the enthronement of new chiefs (during which newly fermented beer is offered to the skulls of the new chief's predecessors). Called nam-gbalang in Mapeo among the Chamba Daka in West Chambaland, lang-gbadna / badna in Yeli among the Chamba Leko in West Chambaland or Vad / Vara among the Chamba Leko in East Chambaland, these masks are believed to represent wild, powerful and dangerous spirits of the forest, from which the masquerades appear.

When not in use lang-gbadna masks are stored back in the bush outside of the village.

Distinguishing Features

  • Head is hollow hemispherical dome
  • Backward-sloping curved horns protrude from head
  • Some masks have ornaments such as coins or cowrie shells attached to represent eyes
  • Wedge shaped nose
  • Mouth made of two long flat parallel plates
    • Flat mouth projection in same horizontal plane as horns
    • Small opening carved within mouth for wearer to see through
  • Behind mouth, small ears carved as small semicircles open to front
  • Some have longitudinal ridge or white stripe bisecting dome from back of skull to join nose
  • Holes around base of mask

Regional variations (Eastern Chamba Leko — vara helmet mask):

  • Shorter
  • Higher / taller dome
  • Plainer in finish

Regional variations (Western Chamba Daka - Lang Gbadna helmet mask):

  • Longer, larger and flatter than Eastern masks
  • Facial features more pronounced (small ears, nose, eyes, sagittal ridge)
  • Many have metal decorations (nose ornament, patterns of incisions)

Regional variations (Southern Chambaland):

  • Female masks painted black, male masks painted red

Regional variations (Southern Chambaland):

  • Masks painted have red and black; all masks considered female

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