Magbo helmet mask for Oro association

 
Creation date
Materials
wood, pigment, iron
Dimensions
H: 28 3/4 x 13 3/4 x 18 1/2 in.
Credit line
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Harrison Eiteljorg
Accession number
1989.754
Collection
Currently On View In
Eiteljorg Suite of African and Oceanic Art - W305

The Oro association is responsible for enforcing fines and penalties and carrying out punishments.  The Oro uses masks of this type during annual festivals.  Maskers are also involved in burial procedures for everyone, no matter the status of the deceased. The many figures on top of the mask, including a prisoner, a preacher, a musician and a soldier indicate that Oro activities involve the whole community

This carving includes several elements that were brought back to the area by former slaves from Brazil. These include the double scroll form just above the main face, the floral cluster in back, and what appears to be a garland of leaves placed around the main head. These Brazilian elements became common in architecture and other art forms after being introduced in the second half of the 19th century.

Purchased by Harrison Eiteljorg [1903-1997], Indianapolis, in 1976; given to the Indianapolis Museum of Art in 1989 (1989.754).
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The Figures and Motifs

“The profusion of images that crown its superstructure speak of the communal responsibilities performed by Oro. All walks of life are portrayed. They include a prisoner carrying a load, mother nursing, preacher with his scriptures, man playing an accordion, colonial soldier, elder with his cane, palmwire tapper, and equestrian warrior whose headgear is surmounted by an enormous crested bird with long, curving beak. They stand on a U-shaped platform whose ends are human heads. Below them, the elongated head of the mask is crowned with what appears to be a garland of leaves over plaited hair. Another floral motif projects backward under the equestrian figure. These and a double scroll that crowns the main face of the mask recall Afro-Brazilian baroque imagery introduced by repatriated Yorubas in the second half of the nineteenth-century. Such motifs came to dominate architecture and other arts in Lagos, Ijebu, and especially Ikorodu town.”

Drewal, Henry John. Yoruba: Nine Centuries of African Art and Thought. New York: H. N. Abrams, 1989, pp. 138-139, 144.

The Oro Association

"Thirteen intricate and separately carved figures mounted on a U-shaped bar give form to the Ijebu belief in the omnipresence of the Oro association in communal life. The mask is peopled with a nursing mother, accordion player, and farmer, among others. At its summit is a crowned warrior on horseback, wearing headgear surmounted by an imposing bird. The secret Oro association of community leaders metes out justice in society by acknowledging deeds good and bad, enforcing death penalties and other punishments, and presiding over the burial ceremonies of people of all walks of life…. Community members depicted in this mask, from preacher to prisoner, soldier to musician, are equal under the Oro justice system."

Lee, Ellen Wardwell, Anne Robinson, and Alexandra Bonfante-Warren. Indianapolis Museum of Art: Highlights of the Collection. Indianapolis: Indianapolis Museum of Art, 2005, p. 75.

The Artist and his Technique

"While attributions are rare for much collected African art, scholars believe this mask to be the work of the master carver Onabanjo of the town of Itu Meko. He used nails to ax the different parts, an unusual practice, since most African carvings are made from a single piece of wood. The ornamental elements of the mask—the floral clusters and garland crowns, and the two scroll-shaped forms above the main face—represent Brazilian influences brought back to the Yoruba by former slaves returning home."

Lee, Ellen Wardwell, Anne Robinson, and Alexandra Bonfante-Warren. Indianapolis Museum of Art: Highlights of the Collection. Indianapolis: Indianapolis Museum of Art, 2005, p. 75.

Indianapolis Museum of Art: Highlights of the Collection (2005)

Thirteen intricate and separately carved figures mounted on a U-shaped bar give form to the Ijebu belief in the omnipresence of the Oro association in communal life. The mask is peopled with a nursing mother, accordion player, and farmer, among others. At its summit is a crowned warrior on horseback, wearing headgear surmounted by an imposing bird. The secret Oro association of community leaders metes out justice in society by acknowledging deeds good and bad, enforcing death penalties and other punishments, and presiding over the burial ceremonies of people of all walks of life.

While attributions are rare for much collected African art, scholars believe this mask to be the work of the master carver Onabanjo of the town of Itu Meko. He used nails to ax the different parts, an unusual practice, since most African carvings are made from a single piece of wood. The ornamental elements of the mask—the floral clusters and garland crowns, and the two scroll-shaped forms above the main face—represent Brazilian influences brought back to the Yoruba by former slaves returning home. After 1850, Brazilian decorative motifs appear often in Ijebu art and architecture, adding more complexity to an already sophisticated sculptural tradition.

Community members depicted in this mask, from preacher to prisoner, soldier to musician, are equal under the Oro justice system.