Mask, Urhobo peoples, Nigeria, Early to mid-20th century, Wood, pigment, encrustation
Masks of this type are used in masquerades performed at festivals to honor Urhobo water spirits-which can be harmful or beneficial-that journey upriver from the Niger River delta.
This mask represents a beneficial spirit associated with the ideal beauty of a young woman or bride.
The mask’s superstructure mimics the elaborately beaded, crowned and crested coiffure worn by Urhobo brides.
The short vertical wood projections across the upper forehead represent the silver hairpins set into the lower parts of a young bride’s crown. The gracefully curved horns projecting from the top of the head are described simply as horns or as embellishments of the coiffure.
A bulk of the Urhobo people reside in the south western state of Delta in Nigeria also referred to as the Niger Delta. Many live in the Ughelli local government region and in Warri and Ethiope,and in Okpe and Sapele Local Government Areas. Their language is also called Urhobo which is a sub-group of the Edo language which is also spoken by the Bini people (Benin-city).
CultureThe Urhobos live very close to and sometimes on the surface of the Niger river. As such, most of their histories, mythologies, and philosophies are water-related. They have an annual fishing festival that includes masquerades, fishing, swimming contests, and dancing. There is also an annual, two-day, Ohworu festival in the southern part of the Urhobo area at which the Ohworhu water spirit and the Eravwe Oganga are displayed.
The king in an Urhobo clan or kingdom is called the Ovie. His wife the queen is called Ovieya and his children Ọmọ Ovie (child of the king also known as prince and princes). Often nowadays, these names are also given to children without royal heritage by their parents. A number of Urhobo sub-groups have other titles other than Ovie, for example, the Okpe called their traditional ruler Orogie and Olomu called theirs Ohworode and Okere-Urhobo theirs Orosuen.
Marriage is the union between man and woman which is culturally and morally acceptable in a society. Before marriage in Urhobo culture is said to be properly contracted, prayer’s must be offered to the ancestors(Erivwin) and God(Oghene). The marriage ritual known as Udi Arhovwaje takes place in the ancestral home of the girl or a patrilineal relation of the girl as agreed by the family.
On an agreed day, the fiance goes with his relatives and friends to the fiancee’s father’s home carrying drinks, salt,kolanut and things required from him by the girls family for the marriage ceremony.
It is on that day that the girl’s parents give their formal approval to the marriage and pour the gin brought by the fiance as libation to the father’s ancestors to bless them with health, children and wealth. It is only after this marriage rites that the husband can claim a refund of money (bride price) if the marriage breaks down. It is believed that the ancestors were a witness to the marriage.
It is only the physical body that is sent to her husband in the marriage, her Erhi(spirit double) remain in family home. This explains why she is brought back to her family home when she dies. In the ancestral home of the man, the wife is welcomed into the family by the eldest member of the family. Here she was expected to confess all her love affairs during and after her betrothal to her husband (if any) and she can now be absolved from all her wrong doings. Henceforth, she becomes a full member of her husband’s family and is now protected by the Erivwin.
This rites symbolizes an agreement between the wife and Erivwin. If the wife later proves unfaithful she will be punished by the supernatural(Erivwin) and this is believed to be the reason why married Urhobo women are very faithful to their husbands.
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