Agbogho Mmwo (Maiden Spirit Helmet Mask)

By: Adenike Cosgrove Tagged:


Used by the male Mmwo secret society, agbogho mmwo helmet masks (also called agbogho monnwu or ikorodo meaning 'maiden spirit mask') are used during annual 'fame of maidens' ceremonies to honour ancestors and the ideal characteristics of young women. Found in northern Igboland (around the cities of Onitsha and Awka), the masks are a visual representation of a number of maiden spirits (Mmwo) highlighted by fine features, elaborate hairstyles and white clay pigmentation on the face (as is the case for ancestor masks).

The masquerade dances are used to educate young girls in what is believed to be ideal moral and physical beauty among the Igbo. "Masqueraders sing tributes to both real and spirit maidens: mmanwu si n'igwe ('masked spirit from the sky'); udemu na lenu ('my fame is potent')"1

Distinguishing Features

  • Oval face
  • Some feature carved keloids on temples and forehead
  • Ached eyebrows
  • Close-set eyes
  • Slit pierced eyes
  • Some feature incised scarification marks under eyes
  • Straight nose
  • Upturned mouth
  • Thin lips opened
  • Small teeth exposed
  • Pointed chin
  • Thick crusty patina with traces of kaolin
  • Holes all around rim of mask
  • Inside of mask sanded smooth, but left unfinished
  • Often have areas of wear at places where contact made with wearer’s face

Two main types: 1) semi-helmet with carved superstructure; 2) smaller face mask

  • Type 1: Half-helmet with crested superstructure
    • Hair arranged in flat, braided, curvilinear patterns (elaborate patterns of braiding)
    • Mask surmounted by openwork superstructure
    • Tri-crested superstructure (older styles feature one or two crests on the superstructure)
    • Superstructure made up of many geometric patterns and circles
    • Some masks have superstructure embellished with hair combs, hornbills, snakes, chameleons, human figures and/or antelopes
  • Type 2: Much smaller face masks
    • When worn, have cloth-covered wood superstructures attached

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