"OJEGU" FROM THE IGALA PEOPLE
Dance crest “ojegu” from the Igala people, Akpa region
Wood with polychrome paint
Provenance: Bernard Dulon, Paris Collection Alexandre Bernand, Paris
Data Sheet (download)
The OJEGU mask
The Igalas principal cult “egu”, the spirit of the dead, is connected with ancestors who are remembered during yam harvest. Egu is represented by masks and headdresses called “ojegu”. The dances that took place to mark the harvest and the dry season for the feast of the Earth Goddess, have as a propose to propitiate a rich and abundant harvest.
Scarifications & elaborated hairdress
In Igala tradition, infants from some parts of the kingdom, like Ankpa, receive three deep horizontal cuts on each side of the face, slightly above the corners of their mouths, as a way of identifying each other. As we can see in our mask those 3 cuts are clearly present right above the eyes, creating an apparent second regard.
The elaborate hairstyle, the shape, facial features, scarifications and facial decorations represent the elements of the ideal of female beauty of the Igala population.
Masks with those attributes were worn by young men at ceremonies to instruct and educate the young in both behavioral morality and the canons of physical beauty, where these correspond to the ethics of the person. Thus, height, a correct posture, a slim and straight nose and a small mouth symbolize generosity, purity, obedience and good character. These ceremonies also took place to mark the harvest and the dry season for the feast of the Earth Goddess, to propitiate a rich and abundant harvest.
Benue region Nigeria
Benue State is named after the Benue River and was formed from the former BenuePlateau State in 1976, along with Igala and some part of Kwara State. In 1991 some areas of Benue state (mostly Igala area), along with areas in Kwara State, were carved out to become part of the new Kogi State. Igbo people are found in the boundary areas like the Obi, Oju etc.
The Benue River (French: la Bénoué), previously known as the Chadda River or Tchadda, is the major tributary of the Niger River. The river is approximately 1,400 kilometres (870 mi) long and is almost entirely navigable during the summer months. As a result, it is an important transportation route in the regions through which it flows.
In fact, the river starts in the Adamawa Plateau in northern Cameroon, from where it flows west, and through the town of Garoua and the Lagdo Reservoir, into Nigeria, south of the Mandara Mountains, and on to Jimeta, Ibi, and Makurdi before meeting West Africa’s longest river, the Niger, at Lokoja.
Lokoja is a city in Nigeria. It lies at the confluence of the Niger and Benue rivers and is the capital of Kogi State. While the Oworo, Bassa Nge, Igala and Ebira are indigenous to the area, other ethnic groups of Nigeria, including the Igbo, Bini/Edo, Tiv, and Nupe, have recently established themselves. Different ethnic groups lay claim to having named the city.
• The Yoruba and Oworo people believe the name comes from Ilu Oke Oja ("The settlement located on the hill did not fall").
• The Hausa believe the name comes from Loko Ja ("A red corner") and that the city was named by the emir of Zazzau.
• The Nupe believe the name comes from Patti Lukongi ("The hill of doves").
• The Igala believe the name comes from the expression Lewa ka je Eja (Come, let's eat fish).
The Igala people
The Igala are an ethnic group of Nigeria. Their homeland, the former Igala Kingdom, is an approximately triangular area of about 14,000 km2 in the angle formed by the Benue and Niger rivers. The population of Igala land is estimated to be about four million, over 70% of whom are subsistence farmers. The Igala ethnic group is densely populated in their settlements around the major towns such Idah, Ankpa and Anyigba.
The most definite historical statement that can be made about Igala is that they had a common origin with the Yoruba and that the separation took place long enough ago to allow for their fairly considerable linguistic differences. There is a whole corpus of oral traditions on the origin of the Igala people.
The Ankpa (Akpa)
Traditions hold that the royal stool of Ankpa and Idah are relatively one, just like every other traditional stools in Igala land. However, the two royal houses tend to be antagonistic of each other in almost every matter. This crisis is traceable to the succession dispute between two supposedly grandchildren of Idoko, the progenitor of the Igala royal throne during the early phase of Attah’s stool in Idah.
The realization of the longtime dream of the royal house came to the fore later in the 1960s. After hard and long struggles to relocate the traditional headquarters of the Igala kingdom from Idah to Atanegoma (Ochaja), perceived to be centrally located, failed following both verbal and written protests from members of the royal house and the Igala elite generally, the Ankpa royal throne did not relent in its struggle for selfautonomy. It was stated that the existence and operations of Ankpa as an autonomous territory with a sovereign power came Ankpa has tended to regard the seniority of the Idah branch as being spiritual rather than political in character perceived to be a rival throne to that of the Attah of Igala.
Despite the agitations, Ankpa people were forced against their will to joined the Igala Native Authority and be loyal and submissive to the authority of the Attah of Igala. This action became necessary because having studied the traditions of the people, the British colonial authority came to terms with the fact that within the Ankpa area were other royal chiefs who were the direct descendants of either Ayegba or children of Ayegba.