When I started collecting I purchased two pieces which I have always assumed were made for the collector market. I have seen similar pieces once or twice but never seen them in reference books (a big part of the assumption).
Does anyone have or come across similar pieces and am I right to think it is most likely they were made for the collector market?
The first is an Igbo Mmuo Crested Mask made of wood, glass beads, cloth, plastic disks, burlap. I purchased it from a New York gallery who stated it was collected by an Ibrahim Berete in 1973 - Nomad Galleries 2002. This crest has stylistic similarities to the northern Igbo and southern Idoma, with a face that has a protruding, slightly open mouth with rows of teeth and typical head dress traits a hair line formed by 3 arcs. The white faces on masks connotate death or the world of the spirits and although they represent deceased maidens they are only worn by men to escort the souls of the recently deceased male ancestors. No head-dresses are allowed at the burial of a woman.
The second is a crest only made of wood, copper, cowries, leather, calabash, beads. The helmet is constructed from a half calabash with the face and hairstyle carved from a single piece of wood. The face is held in place by a sheet of leather laced to the rim of the helmet by a leather thong. Holes are drilled in the calabash with cowries attached by leather The copper rings are likely to represent copper coins that were often woven into Igbo hairstyles. They have worn the lower edges of their attachment holes, the holes in the wood superstructure binding it to the calabash are worn on their lower edges, the lower edges of the holes in the calabash have softened and the grain is raised in the wood superstructure.
The piece includes a leather chinstrap and a rattle of tightly woven caner filled with small stones and a tin disk. Rattles were used at funerals at the same time as drums, singing and firearms
I assume they were constructed to represent Mmuo participation masks
Before the influence of Europeans and christian missions, most Igbo practised ancestor worship, which held that in order to gain success in this world one must appease the spirits of the deceased. One of the primary ways of showing respect for the dead was through participation in the secret mens society Mmuo (Mwo-, Mmo-) where masks representative of maidens with delicate features and elaborate coiffures escorted the soul of the recently deceased males into the next life.
The Mmuo exists primarily in the northern Igbo area but in other parts similar societies exist under different names. The second level of Mmuo initiates were responsible for carrying out the funeral ceremonies for the deceased and inducting the departed spirits into the Ebe Mmuo, so that they could no longer cause mischief in the village. The masks were also worn during harvest celebrations and annual ceremonies to honour the earth spirit.