The only people in Africa to make antelope-skin covered crests and masks are the Ejagham. They live in the Cross River region in southeast Nigeria, and Cameroon. Although it looks like a sculpture, this crest mask is attached to the basketry cap, which is held on the wearer’s head.  

 An elaborate trading network along the river formerly involved the selling of rights to Ngbe and other associations, including the right to perform their various masquerades. The group selling the rights would perform the masquerade in the village of the buyer group, then return home, leaving their masks and costumes behind. The river trade thus helped to spread related art events and art objects among diverse people over a broad area, though changes in both form and meaning took place as local copies of masks and costumes were made. When the mask is made fresh animal skin is stretched and tacked over the soft wood from which it is carved. After the skin dried, it was stained with pigments made from leaves and bark. Feathers, quills, and other objects would have ornamented the mask in performance. It is presumed that all masks represented ancestors.


This crest from the Raskin Private Collection collection has been through some wear and tear – and you can see where the leather was ripped. Quite amazing!

Written by Vera Raskin — March 31, 2015

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