Pangolin Headdress Mask

Object Title: Pangolin Headdress Mask

Materials: Wood, pangolin hide, pigments, nails

Country: Nigeria

Date Created: 20th Century


Horizontal animal headdresses are common throughout Eastern Nigeria and are worn in masquerades. This headdress presents a rather naturalistic depiction of a Pangolin, or scaly anteater (Phataginus tricuspis – a Non endangered member of the pangolin family – found in Nigeria and Cameroon).

The Pangolin is a rather amazing creature in that it is covered with hard scales and lives near river banks, yet is a mammal that gives birth to live young and lives in trees. Throughout Africa, the Pangolin is celebrated for its ability to dig very quickly into the ground and to curl up into an almost impenetrable ball when in danger.

Originally attributed to the Igbo, these pangolin crests are more recently believed to originate from the neighboring Ekpeye people. Living in the area between the Igbo and the Ijo, and other Riverine peoples to the South, though ethnically distinct from all of these groups Ekpeye sculpture is a complex pastiche of styles.

The Ross pangolin mask is very classical – the type depicts a pangolin horizontally stretched and often grasping at a piece of fruit. The tail is extended and in many of the finer, older examples, such as this, the surface is covered by an actual Pangolin hide to save the carver from attempting to accurately depict the complex mass of scales.


Exhibition History:

In Memoriam – Bonnie Terrill Ross (1956-2022). New YorkQCC Art Gallery of CUNY, October 12, 2023, to February 16, 2024.