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Unknown Maker
Bushcow Headdress of the Mangam Society Bushcow Headdress of the Mangam Society
20th century 20th century

Among the Kantana and neighboring peoples in the Benue Valley region of central Nigeria, men’s associations such as Mangam played an active role in governance, healing and community protection until the 1970s. The society assumed different functions and levels of importance throughout the region; healing appears to have been central to Kantana Mangam associations, with each village possessing its own masks and corresponding meeting place.

Society members performed masquerades at harvests feasts, initiation ceremonies, funerals and during treatment of illnesses such as leprosy. Masks representing horned animals such as reedbucks, waterbucks, and buffalo predominated. The Lang collection mask, with its tubular snout and sweeping, rounded horns that nearly touch, depicts a dwarf water buffalo, also known as a bushcow. The most common Mangam mask type, it was worn perched on the head and accompanied by a costume composed of long palm leaves that obscured the wearer¿s identity.

Lack of documentation and the cessation of Mangam masking traditions make it difficult to know the precise meanings ascribed to masks such as this. Given the wide distribution among different peoples, it is likely that meaning varied. Early accounts imply Mangam masquerades were associated with the dead, while at least one Benue River group identifies its Mangam masks with a female spirit. More generally, throughout West Africa, horned creatures such as buffalo and antelopes have often been linked to attributes such as strength or speed, and their horns with supernatural power. The application of red ochre (a pigment with spiritual associations in the Benue region), as seen on this mask, further suggests a supernatural dimension.

 
Unknown Maker
Kantana peoples Kantana peoples
Bushcow Headdress of the Mangam Society Bushcow Headdress of the Mangam Society
20th century 20th century
wood, fibres wood, fibres
height / width / depth: 56.00 x 26.00 x 22.00 cm; 22.05 x 10.24 x 8.66 in.
Gift of Justin and Elisabeth Lang, 1984 Gift of Justin and Elisabeth Lang, 1984
M84-224

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