Lesson 4: The Circulation of Masquerades

Throughout the Lower (and Middle Benue) regions, masquerades are performed to incarnate ancestors, enforce social codes, support royal and chiefly authority, celebrate warriors, or to entertain.Among those on view in the Lower Benue section of the Central Nigeria Unmasked exhibition are videos of “tall ghost” masks, as well as an impressive elephant mask, crest masks worn on the top of the head, and three imposing helmet masks that are used in masquerades to honor royalty among the Igala peoples.

The circumstances of war, migration, and resettlement since the nineteenth century have meant that masks were and continue to be highly mobile. They could be taken as war booty, bought and sold, adopted with or without accompanying rituals, and altered to suit aesthetic or social requirements of a new community. Reinterpreted by new owners, their meanings changed in response to different contexts and needs.

As cultural boundary crossers, masquerade traditions also retain some traces of where they have been. Their names, origin stories, accompanying musical instrumentation, idiosyncratic dance steps, or special adornments are all clues to their historical path.

The following curriculum connections explore masks familiar to the peoples in the Lower Benue region.



This lesson is part of the curricular materials developed to accompany the exhibition Central Nigeria Unmasked: Arts of the Benue River Valley. Although this and companion lessons are self-contained, each will be enhanced when used in conjunction with others in this resource. Addressing several lessons within each unit will facilitate the incorporation of the study of world arts and cultures into your curriculum.

The lesson is based on works in the first section of the exhibition called The Lower Benue: Fluid Artistic Identities


In this unit the topics and lessons are

Lesson 1: The Mobility of Shrine Sculpture

Lesson 2: Lower Benue Artists

Lesson 3: Lost Wax Casting along the Benue

Lesson 4: The Circulation of Masquerades


Related Exhibition