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Re: [African_Arts] Follow-Up Details, Additional Info on the Nigerian "Bush Cow" Mask Form

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  • Veronique Martelliere
    Hi Lee ! I would be very interested in seeing the photo of Todd s animal crest mask but could not find it. Thank you for all the information concerning Eastern
    Message 1 of 2 , Dec 7, 2005
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      Hi Lee !
      I would be very interested in seeing the photo of Todd's animal crest mask but could not find it.
      Thank you for all the information concerning Eastern Central Nigeria arts.
      As you mention, Arts of this area are not abundantly documented.
      Until now, I found help in four books :
      - NEYT Francois : The Arts of the Benue
      - WITTMER M. & ARNETT W. : Three Rivers of Nigeria
      - SIEBER Roy : Sculptures of Northern Nigeria
      - Arts du Nigeria - book published by the french national museums (after an exhibition which took place in 1997), in french, but texts are translated from english/american authors :
      Marla BERNS & Richard FARDON about arts of Central Nigeria : 9 dense pages of descriptions of central Nigeria communities and arts. This text is really worth reading to get an idea of the beliefs and traditions in this region and the inter-influences in artifacts/styles.
      In the same book, other long articles are written by :
      Tim CHAPELL, about the Verre groups
      Richard FARDON, about the Chamba groups
      David ZEITLYN, about the Mambila groups
      Jan STRYBOL, about the Mumuye groups
      It should be possible to find the original texts, in english, somewhere !
      Hoping it helps. I'm still hunting for literature about this area - will let you know if I catch something - and welcome any information !
      Be well, Lee !

      LRubinstein@... wrote:
      Dear All:
      After my previous posting to the group in regard to Todd's animal crest mask from Eastern Central Nigeria, I continued to hunt for more related masks and sources thus regarding.  I did come across some general references to this abstract animal mask form, specifically, as well as to "Jukunoid" peoples, generally.  The sources are indeed somewhat limited in the general literature and online sources, but I did come across some intriguing images and analyses of what I perceive to be related masks.  For any who may be interested in this recurrent and canonical mask form, I thought I would provide available images and some of the comments that accompanied these masks, as they offer great information from which to pursue further inquiries on the general form and into peoples from this region. 
      The first, on page 172 of  African Art:  The Barbier-Muller Collection [ISBN 3-7913-0849-1]  (Object #101) of , is a Kantana "Bush Cow Crest" -- boldly geometric with horns that form a complete circle -- with the same general type of segmented snout as the mask of which Todd posted an image.  In the commentary accompanying Kantana Mask -- written by Arnold Rubin -- Rubin refers to "Highly abstract carved wooden crests of this type [i.e., Bush Cow Crest Masks], based on the heads of the Cape Buffalo and several varieties of antelopes...usually attributed to the Kantana (formerly called Mama)  ...[E]ssentially identical sculptures were also used by other populations...in the difficult and broken terrain typical of the south-central margins of the Jos Plateau.  The populations involved included the Mada, Kulere, Rindri, and Sha, among others.  In each village, these crests focused the observances of Mangam, a loosely organized association of males that derived its authority from 'the ancestors' and was primarily concerned with maintaining social order and enhancing agricultural yields.  The remarkable dispersion of the Mangan complex may have been one result of people from different groups coming together to take advantage of the expanding opportunities for seasonal labor that accompanied the emergence, during the late eighteenth/early nineteenth century, of a major salt-rendering industry in the area south and east of the town of Lafia."  Now, there's a quite a lot of cultural, geographical and historical references to pursue in that very dense little text!
      Another mask from the same book/collection appears on page 176:  The image is of a more naturalistic but formally related Yukuben horned (horns not resolving in a circle but rather remaining distinct) animal mask -- with fiber and abrus seeds applied.  The commentary (again by Arnold Rubin) refers to this mask as among the "few strikingly abstract, 'horizontal' masks from the Kutep, based on bovine or antelope motifs, now in German museums...collected in the present [20th] century.  Such masks, and these motifs, are extensively distributed among peoples living in the Cameroon-Nigeria borderland, including the Kpan, Mambila, Mumuye and Chamba."  The plot thickens with the further revelation of other rarely mentioned or considered groups from the region:  "Some Yukuben masks also belong to this complex...whereas Kutep masks, called iki, perform to celebrate success in communal dry season hunts, those of the Yukuben, called augum, are connected with the agricultural cycle and control of witchcraft." 
      The reference above to the inclusion of these masks in the German museums is but one of the intriguing follow-up directions.  Elusively but clearly, there is a wide variety of formally and/or culturally related masks from the region that have some formal similarities to the mask in question, although the animal form masks are clearly quite common and the similarities may be dispersional/diffusional or coincidental.  Only detailed research will provide a better basis for firm conjecture regarding the historical and cultural relationship (if any) among the various examples. 
      Once again, a thorough research effort (or even its beginning stages) reveals the need to go beyond the over-simplified and overly narrow body of comparative examples that earmark the pitfalls of the limitation of African art to the alleged primacy of a few major traditions.  Betwixt and between what is known is a multitude of unrecognized peoples, interrelationships, histories, migrations...  Right about now I could sure use a crash course equivalent to (or a pill containing) a few decades of good socio-linguistic research from the region, as I imagine that is one of the fields of study that will shed light on this complex of masks and the relationships among the peoples who create and/or have created these "bovine," "bushcow"  masks in the region north of the Benue.  The attribution of figures from among the Mumuye, Jukun, Wurkun, etc. also reveal a parallel need for deeper investigation and clarified attributions of works from this area. 
      Finally, while the objects referenced below do not relate DIRECTLY to the "Bushcow" mask form, they do suggest directions for further exploration of other regional mask complexes of the borderland groups and do remain in the realm of animal mask forms from the general region being discussed.  I include them here to encourage further consideration and discussion:
      Jompre Mask and Culture Info:
      More information is provided on the "context page" which can be clicked from the page above or directly visited on this link:  http://artworld.uea.ac.uk/objects/10002/context.html
      I will continue to search for more firsthand sources and even perhaps images of such Nigeria-Cameroon borderland animal masks in situ... as well as a good bibliography through which to comb through for sources on what appears to be a rather diverse, interrelated grouping of peoples throughout the region spanning the Nigerian states of Taraba, Plateau and Nasarawa and even spanning across into the culturally arbitrary national border with Cameroon.  One observation I can offer is that there is certainly no clear picture of the particular weight to attach to existing identifications of objects from that region, and there is much to explore in this realm.
      I think that the more we look, the more likely we will need to examine more closely the animal masks of the Mambila (and the Wawa...and on and on...) -- as well as the last few hundred years of regional history in order to get a more complete grounding from which to evaluate the origins, significance and cultural attributions of the animal masks from this region.

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