The Igbo Ijele Mask –Anaikor.

Anaikor’s article on the Ijele mask provides an interesting and elaborate description of the appearance, concept and role of the mask in Igbo society.  The mask is viewed with significant respect and awe within Igbo society, due to its elaborate designs and incomparable size; standing at 6 meters tall and 3 meters wide, no other mask matches its grandeur. However, its size alone is not the only reason for its power, the fact that it only makes an appearance every 25 years undoubtedly adds to its mysticism and sense of importance. Furthermore, the size and beauty of a mask within Igbo society portrays wealth and social status, understandably, Anaikor claims within this criterion, the Ijele mask embodies the very best of Igbo art. With all this in mind, one must question the reasoning why it is not brought out more often in performances.

What I found to be the most interesting aspect of the Ijele Mask was its design. Anaikor identifies that there are three main categories that dominate the masks design: man in his daily activities, the spirit world and animals and forestry. More specifically, the headdress contains depictions of important moments in life, for instance, images of women in labour, men climbing for fruit are placed besides key political experiences. The quality and range of depictions can provide anthropologists with an interesting visual social commentary which arguably adds to its uniqueness.

With regards to the mystic powers, Igbo masks do not represent specific spirits but rather dramatize specific attributes of humans, ancestors, animals or spirits. Anaikor identifies that the Ijele mask is said to incarnate the ancestors and spirits who revealed the land and how to prosper on it. The grandeur of the mask is said to be a representation of the economic gains that can be had from the soil. The mask, according to Anaikor, is a tool for uniting people with a sense of pride and social/historical continuity.

While much of the mysticism of the mask it seems comes from its illusively, when it is brought out in performances its size once again plays an important part in its reception. The mask is worn by one man and the sheer size and weight makes fast, brash movements difficult, rather than this causing a hindrance to the performance, Anaikor reports that the slow stop and start movements at the start of the show create a sense of anticipation and excitement. In conclusion, I found the article to be really interesting and informative and has opened my eyes to the fact that masks come in all sorts of shapes and sizes – literally! 


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