agbogho mmwo (Maiden Spirit Mask)

About this object

History of use

The masks are performed by men as masqueraders for middle grade initiation in the men’s secret society. They are also danced at festivals during the dry season to promote abundant harvest and at funerals of prominent members of society to escort the dead to the spirit world. The dancers mime the graceful movements and deportment of young women and sing in praise of both real and spirit maidens. The elaborate upper section is meant to portray nineteenth century ceremonial hairstyles that evoke wealth and royalty.


Acquired by Alan Sawyer from Saja Tunkara in 1975.

Cultural context

performance; dancing

Iconographic meaning

Maiden spirts represent delicate beauty and the feminine character. The spiritual and moral qualities of young women are idealized through exaggerated small features and a pale complexion.

Physical description

Mmwo helmet mask, depicts a female face with an elaborate headdress. Face is cream coloured with raised brown lines highlighting the brow ridge, nose, eyes, mouth and ears. Additional raised dark brown designs on forehead and around ears, decorated with incised lines, painted cream. The designs are two circles next to the ears and a star-like shape on the forehead. Brown circles are painted on the cheeks, at ends of raised lines. Hair is painted dark brown and has incised spirals and lines throughout. Headdress is on top centre of head. It consists of three arches. The smaller, outer arches are cream coloured and have dark brown circles protruding from the outer sides. Below them are dark brown, irregularly shaped arches that extend toward the sides of the mask. Central arch consists of curved, dark brown poles with a hollow semi-circle on top. In middle of semi-circle are white and dark brown circles. Square cut-outs along edges of all arches, where crescent-shaped pieces are inserted. Holes through mask for eyes, mouth and ears. Wrapped cloth border tied around lower edge of mask, interior is undecorated. Large sections of mask’s headdress are missing.