Expressive idiok ekpo represent spirits and were used in the dances of the Ibibio, who live east of the Niger Delta in south-east Nigeria.
Finely carved with a particularly ‘strong’ face, this 10in (25cm) example is painted black with white pigment to the teeth within an articulated jaw.
It was thought to be late 19th or early 20th century in date: the British Museum has a mask from the same group it acquired in 1899.
Guided at £600-800, it came for sale from the estate of Peter Mactaggart (1931-2020) whose family ran an antiques shop in Welwyn, Hertfordshire, from the late 1940s to the early 1970s.
Kareau were placed inside the entrance of huts to scare away the spirits on the islands of Nicobar in the Bay of Bengal.
This particular model standing 2ft 6in (76cm) high, with remains of burnishing to the coiffure and pigment to the face, would have held a spear in the right hand to ward off unwelcome intruders.
Estimated at £2000-3000, it had a provenance to the antiquarian Edward Croft-Murray (1907-80), keeper of the prints and drawings department at the British Museum from 1954-73 and one of the so-called Monuments Men who worked in Italy during the latter stages of the Second World War.