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Ukara

Ritual Cloth of the Ekpe Secret Society

April 18, 2015, through August 02, 2015
Mazi Okereke Agbam of Arochukwu’s personalized ukara cloth

Igbo people, Nigeria, Mazi Okereke Agbam of Arochukwu’s personalized ukara cloth, 1972, cotton and indigo dye. Collection of Eli Bentor. 

Giant ukara used as a backdrop at an Ekpe lodge

Igbo people, Nigeria, giant ukara used as a backdrop at an Ekpe lodge, early 2000s, cotton and indigo dye. Collection of Eli Bentor.

Small ukara with very fine design and Omu Aro symbol

Igbo people, Nigeria, small ukara with very fine design and Omu Aro symbol, mid-1980s, cotton and indigo dye. Collection of Eli Bentor. 

Ukara cloth symbolizes the power, wealth, and prestige of the Ekpe secret society, an interethnic all-male association, and the sacrality of Ekpe meeting lodges. Although commissioned and used by the Ekpe, located in the Cross River region at the border of southeastern Nigeria and western Cameroon, ukara is designed, sewn, and dyed by the Ezillo people in present-day Ebonyi State. The process of creating ukara cloths is laborious and involves many hands, but ultimately each cloth is highly individualized, clearly produced to be worn by a specific Ekpe person or to mark a particular Ekpe lodge. Nsibidi symbols, an ideographic and gestural system of communication, are dyed onto the cloth. The symbols’ meanings are largely guarded by Ekpe members, with more established members becoming deeply knowledgeable about the poly-semantic signs. 
This exhibition was organized by the Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College, and generously supported by the William B. Jaffe and Evelyn A. Hall Fund. Objects and images in the exhibition are courtesy of Dr. Eli Bentor.
Curated by Ugochukwu-Smooth C. Nzewi, Curator of African Art

Press release 

PDF icon Press Release (448.14 KB)

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Related events 

May 15
Hood Auditorium
4:30PM
Ukara: Ritual Cloth of the Ekpe Secret Society
May 26
Hood Museum of Art
12:30PM
“Marks and Mark-Making in Afro-diasporic Art”

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