Mumuye masks are traditionally worn during the initiation dances of young males, as well as at other major community celebrations such as harvest festivals and funerals.
Mumuye men aspire to pass through seven initiation ceremonies, each marking key milestones throughout their lives. One such ritual is known as Vaa-Bong. Some believe this practice to be more cult-like than simply traditional.
The Vaa-Bong ritual takes place every seven years and sees initiates chastised by higher-ranking members of the group. Chickens are also sacrificed with the blood sprinkled onto the masks.
Those who pass through this initiation are gifted a specially made mask and are accepted into the lifelong fraternity. Vaa-bong masks are worn once again during the funeral of any member of the group.
The wife of Vaa-Bong is Sukuru, and it is this female figure depicted on masks. Sukuru means “old woman” or “the tortoise woman”. Sukuru masks can also be worn during ceremonies to celebrate chiefs, in rituals designed to catch thieves or during times of war.
The wood for all Mumuye masks is sourced from trees believed to be inhabited by spirits. A ritual is performed before the felling of these trees.