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Cap mask
Date: Late 19th-early 20th century
Medium: Wood, pigment
Dimensions: H x W x D: 20.7 x 12 x 52.5 cm (8 1/8 x 4 3/4 x 20 11/16 in.)
Credit Line: Gift of Robert and Nancy Nooter
Geography: Nigeria
Object Number: 81-11-16
Search Terms:
Male use
Object is not currently on exhibit

The Kulere carved distinctive bushcow masks with highly abstract, graceful and elemental forms. The masks were usually undecorated except for parallel striations filled with light pigment. They combined three parts: open jaws, a hemispherical head and horns--representing the spiritual energy of the natural, nonhuman environment. The mask was used in ceremonies of the munja, a men's association in which all boys automatically became members during initiation. The main purpose of the munja was to protect the fields through certain rituals. The dancer, disguised from head to toe with a costume of netting and a palm strip skirt, performed an energetic, threatening dance. His movements, however, were restrained by ropes or a human chain, thus conveying the animalistic creature's powerful spirit to the human community. This mask is similar in style to a bushcow mask worn by the Kulere's western neighbors, the Mama. The men's associations began to diminish in number in the 1970s, and such masks are no longer seen in the Nigerian central plateau and western lowlands where the Kulere and Mama live.

Tripartite horizontal animal wood cap mask with open jaws, conical head and long, tapering horns. Mask has parallel lines decorating around the projecting eyes and up to the point of the forehead, and an overall reddish pigment surface.

Christian Duponcheel, Belgium, 1965

Robert and Nancy Nooter, Washington, D.C., 1970 to 1981

National Museum of African Art. 1999. Selected Works from the Collection of the National Museum of African Art. Washington, D.C.: National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, p. 96, no. 65.

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