Ritual Cloth of the Ekpe Secret Society
Temporary Exhibitions, Hall Gallery
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