Goemai mask
Photos and information from:
African Arts - Spring 2002 in an article “Eastern Nigerian art from the Toby and Barry Hecht Collection”.
Goemai mask - Nigeria
Mask. Goemai, Nigeria. Wood, abrus seeds; 63.5cm (25").

Several authors have noted a likeness between Jukun Aku maga masks (Tribal Arts 1998:29; Arts d'Afrique
Noire 1999a: front cover, 1999b:52) and certain Goemai examples (Rubin 1969:105-10). In the latter
sculptures the oval top plane is continuous with the upper jaw. Goemai masks are said to be worn horizontally,
as shown below in the field drawing by Roy Sieber, whereas the Jukun examples are tipped down in front. Both
mask types are felt to represent a highly stylized human head.

This mask, called Mongop (Sieber 1961:10), appears to be the authority symbol for chiefship and is associated
with agriculture as well. It officiates at the installations and burials of chiefs and otherwise appears once a year,
during the dry season. The only examples in the literature are field photographs (Sieber 1961: figs. 6, 25, 26).
Goemai figure

From the book:
Africa the Art of a Continent
Standing figure
Goemai - Nigeria
62 x 13 x 43 cm
Fritz Koenig Collection
The Goeniai live to the north of the Benue Biver, opposite the Jukun. Their land is bisected by the Sheman-ker, a tributary of
the Benue. Of the masks found among the Goemai one type is of particular interest because it relates to this figure and may
be of an older, indigenous form that is shared by the Montol, northern neighbours of the Goemai. Called gugwom by both the
Goemai and Montol, it is a horizontal mask with elongated crocodile-like jaws. It officiates at the installation and burial of chiefs
and has a strong ancestral association; it is also used during the dry season and is associated with the success of agriculture.

Gugwom masks resemble the head of this figure and of several others photographed in 1957 by Robin Jagoe, a British
colonial officer (published by Sieber). The latter are quite unlike other Goeniai examples, which lack the zoomorphic head and
are used by diviners in healing ceremonies. They had appeared at a harvest ceremony near Shendam, the capital of the
Goemai. It was probably also an ancestral rite, for the ceremony took place near the graves of deceased Long Goemais
(paramount chiefs of the Goemai).

This may be the only figure of its type outside Nigeria that resembles the figures in Jagoe's photographs. In the absence of
other data it may be considered to have ancestral and agricultural significance to the Goemai and be related to the
celebration of deceased chiefs. BH, RS

Bibliography: Sieber, 1961, figs 7, 29, 31; Klever, 1975, p. 225, fig. 101; Schaedler, 1992, p. 157, fig. 124
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African Arts is a quarterly journal devoted to the plastic and graphic arts of Africa, broadly defined to encompass sculpture in wood,
metal, ceramic, ivory, and stone, and less familiar work in fiber, hide, mud, and other materials. Included in this mandate are
architecture, arts of personal adornment, contemporary fine and popular arts, and the arts of the Africa diaspora. In addition, the
journal encourages dialogue on other forms of African expressive culture: film, theater, dance, and music.

African Arts is published quarterly by the James S. Coleman African Studies Center, University of California, Los Angeles. It is
distributed by MIT Press