DescriptionWAJA, Northern Nigeria
Waja arts, like those of neighboring Chamba, Jukun, Mumuye and Wurkun of the upper Benue River in northern Nigeria, received little attention until the 1960s, and attributions of individual sculptures to one group or another may still be uncertain. These peoples all share a subsistence agricultural economy built around millet farming and supplemented by some hunting. A men's society called Mam is found among the Waja and the Jukun, and several of these groups use large hardwood shoulder or yoke masks. There is much confusion in the attribution of these masks.
The Waja use a tall, brightly painted yoke or shoulder mask with a long, slender neck and small head, but they also have a more compact type like the present example. These are said to appear in male and female pairs, worn by members of the Mam society, and to be concerned with human and crop fertility. The wearer is able to see through two rectangular holes in the front of the yoke, while some holes around the edges of both the front and back parts secured the costume when the piece was in use. Lighter color on the yoke probably indicates that this part was not seen when the piece was in use or was not emphasized. It is reported that some Waja masks of this type have an encrusted, dark patina all over, probably from receiving sacrificial material as they were placed upon altars when not in use, but the present mask does not have this patination anywhere except on the face and head, indicating handling and rubbing from long use.
Metal accents for the eyes, a strong, simple nose, compact head with a ridged hairstyle terminating in the suggestion of an animal head over the forehead, and diagonal engraved lines on the cheeks that may indicate tribal marks, all showing an old, dark patina, focus attention on the head of this monumental mask.
From the Estate of Liz Claiborne and Arthur Ortenberg
Sotheby's, African and Oceanic Art, November 15, 2002, lot 54
Height: 45 inches
Estimate: $30,000 - $40,000.
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