Journalism In Verse

Ijaw Mask 
By Artist not identified

Origin: Africa, 
Medium: Wood, feathers
Donor: Donated by Dr. C. G. Weld

Description: This very interesting two-headed mask originated in southeast Nigeria, probably a product of the Ijaw people who live along the delta of the Niger River. Nigeria is Africa’s largest and most populous nation, as well as one of the richest, after South Africa. Many cultures coexist within its borders. The British set the boundaries in its annexation of Lagos, the capital, in 186l, but Europeans had been coming there since the 15th century.

This mask may be dedicated to the surrounding water spirits. It is characterized by its sharp geometrical shapes and Ijaw masks may have been one of the inspirations for cubism in Europe. In general, masks are more commonly found in cultures where there is not a strong central authority. Often considered a ‘sculpture in motion’, masks are usually reserved for public viewing during a dance and may be created as part of an initiation ceremony, an exorcism, a celebration, or show of authority. Almost uniformly masks are considered to hold spiritual power. The public does not usually have access to the place where the mask is made nor the place where the people who put it on are dressed, which only reinforces its power and mystique.

Masks from the African continent are often crafted by artists to create an analogy of a natural image and are rarely realistic, though there are some major exceptions. Contrary to common perceptions and collections seen in the West, masks are only produced in a minority of African cultures. Still, because they frequently capture a face, they tend to be universally interesting. Many times masks are placed on top of the head, rather than in front of it, and cloth or raphia cascades from the mask to cover the face of the wearer who is usually a dancer. (Susan Bowditch)

Taken from:

African Art by Frank Willett. New York:

Potpourri of Perdition

in Africa/World by

The Odi massacre was an act of violence carried out on November 20, 1999, by the Nigerian military on the Ijaw town of Odi in Bayelsa, Nigeria. Over 2000 civilians were slain.

The unborn twins in the womb of the primigravida
did not possess the knack to dodge a bullet. Their
breaths sniffed out as they let go of temperate
placenta and forgot their birthday which never arrived.

The spirits had informed the nonagenarian how she
would diminish peacefully in her sleep nine days
after kissing her great-grandchildren goodbye but
twin bullets lodged in her ventricle and forehead.

The sound of gunshots mixed with the wailings
of helpless unclad children to birth a
potpourri of perdition, pain and penury as
they yowled “Mamma!” “Pappa!”—and died too.

The beautiful young man had gone into his farm
which had transfigured to an oil well; and wondered
what he’d feed his unborn twins with when they will
arrive but his crops had been burned by the liquid
black gold while his flesh charred to cinders.

The agama swallowed the roach after many unsuccessful
attempts at preying—he was happy, nodding his head
up and down at the omen of good luck but a bullet brushed
his red head–while the roach died in his gorge.

The tall mango tree communed with her creator
and asked for the strength to produce chlorophyll
but was cut short before the sun could shine
in all her glory.

Odi razed and set ablaze by camouflage
men who had vowed to reduce the populace
to volcanic dust. They spared nothing,
not even nothing.


Success Akpojotor was born in Benin City, Nigeria, and writes poetry, prose, and theatre. His works have appeared or are forthcoming in Nigerian Observer, Heavy Feather Review, Tuck Magazine, Wax Poetry and Art, Mounting The Moon Anthology, among others. He holds a honors degree in History from the University of Benin.

The art is a Ijaw mask. The image is courtesy of the Peabody Essex Museum.

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