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Ukara: Ritual Cloth of the Ekpe Secret Society

Ukara brochure cover
April 2015

Ugochukwu-Smooth Nzewi

With contributions by Eli Bentor and Jordan A. Fenton

Published by the Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College

2015

This exhibition booklet examines the ukara cloth of the Ekpe secret society, a multiethnic all-male association in southeastern Nigeria and western Cameroon. It explores the longstanding cultural practice the cloth represents and the artistic process involved in its creation. The material cloth is made of plain cotton but transformed into a ritual object when nsibidi is inscribed onto it through indigo dyeing. Nsibidi is a body of ideographic, abstract, and gestural signs deployed by the Ekpe Society as a form of coded communication. Worn as personal wrappers during initiations, and at social events, many of which are public spectacles, ukara functions as a physical metaphor for the ideological secrecy that the Ekpe Society carefully constructs and guards.

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