This mask, known as the Queen of Women (Eze Nwanyi), was made and used by the Igbo people of Nigeria. It is one of the most important masks in a multi-character performance that occurs at funerals and dry-season ceremonies that purify the village, market, shrines, paths, and other communal places. Perhaps the most important context for the appearance of Eze Nwanyi is a festival called Otutara, an occasion which reunites living people with their ancestors.
The Queen of Women mask represents a wealthy, senior, titled wife—a mother and grandmother—a woman who commands enormous respect in the village. She embodies Igbo feminine ideals of strength, wisdom, beauty, stature, and dignity, and is a leader among women. As Igbo scholar Chike Aniakor has noted, “. . . her wealth and title remind us that all are not equal, for her achievements are outside the reach of most.” Eze Nwanyi and her junior, a young female character named Nwamma, he says, are “the kind of women one fights for.”