Mbubu (Calabash Mask)

By: Adenike Cosgrove Tagged:

The word mbubu refers only to this ceremonial gourd mask. It is worn during a secret initiation ceremony known as bkpe in the southern Afikpo villages, Kpogrikpo and Anohia. The Nkporo Ada wear similar calabash masks, with vertical fibre extensions, during ceremonies and it is said that some Afikpo rites are based on these traditions.

During initiations of eldest sons into secret Afikpo societies, novice members wear the mbubu mask (called isiji among most other Afikpo villages; meaning  'head of yam').

These masks can be worn by hundreds of male members of the groups ranging in age from five to around twenty.

Mbubu masks are said to be more powerful than other Afikpo headwear and are rarely touched other than to carve duplicates or perform initiations.

Distinguishing Features

  • Light in weight
  • Length = 12 - 20 inches
  • Width = 5 - 7 inches
  • Mask made from egg-shaped gourd
  • Top piece of mask made from 'tail' of plant
    • Tail often attached using nails or pegs
    • Often painted yellow, but some examples painted white
  • Surface of gourd usually dark or black
    • Abstract designs painted onto surface
    • Horizontal, coloured rectangles and/or bars at centre
    • Curved triangular designs toward sides
  • Lines cut completely through face horizontally at front centre
    • Lines sometimes cut vertically elsewhere
  • No indication of nose, eyes, eyebrows
    • Slit may represent a mouth

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