Igbo Masquerades and Their importance to society

Igbo Masquerades and Their importance to society

Igbo Masquerades and Their importance to society

By / Entertainment / الأحد, 25 آب/أغسطس 2019 05:28

In Ala Igbo, there are many spectacular  festivities and cultural performances. The most notable are  the masquerades and the new Yam festivals. The degree of these performances vary from place to place with Anambra, Enugu and some parts of Imo States leading the others. Arondizogu in Imo State is  known popularly for their Ikeji Festival where Masquerades of extra-ordinary propensity abound. The Nsukka and Udi people in Enugu State also perform feats in their Masquerade displays. In those good days, many Masquerade performances were exhibited during the Christmas in Enugu and many other towns in then Eastern Nigeria.

Masquerades (Mmanw
) are held in accordance with local  native calendars during festivals such as Chrismas and New Yam Festivals,  burial rites and other serious social gatherings. The masquerades are adorned in esoteric  regalia  and colorful  masks made of wood and other fabric materials. Masquerades are hierarchical or age related Some masks appear only at one festival, but others  appear more regularly.  According to popular Igbo belief, Masquerades are very important spiritual elements of society. They have  symbolic representation and serve many important roles in society.  Depending on the locality in Igbo land, Masquerades can have replica images of deities and important ancestral  relatives of the society. Consequently, the identities  of the masquerade are  well-kept secret from children, women and the uninitiated men of society. Only  strong, exclusive  and trusted men of society are allowed to perform any Masquerade with a high reputation. .

Masquerade vary in size, display and function. Some Masquerades perform competitive dancing moves. These are known as “Ojionu or Ọgba Mgbada Masquerades”. Others perform acrobatic and other eye-popping feats. Some of these are seen in Arondizuogu during Ikeji festivals. The popular names for some of these rugged Mmanwụ (Masquerade) is “OKWO MMA). In those in Coal City Enugu, Coal Camp had one of the toughest Okwu mma that cast spells on others. It was known as “Mmanwụ Obesie” Whenever, it appeared, every body ran away including other Masquerades of minor leagues. That seems to explain the popular saying in Ala Igbo, “NNUKWU MMONWỤ PUTA, OBODO AWALọ ỌSO”- whenever, a big Masquerade appears, the town runs away.  Some other Masquerades chase people around and wipes non Masquerades on its trajectory. These are called “EKPO, a variant popular in Ovim in Isuikwuato Area. Another colorful dancing Masquerade is the “Okonko,, popularly seen around Calaba, Arochukwu, Ohọfia, Igbere and Isuikwuato axis of Abia State Nigeria. Udunkulu or Ajonkwu are spectacular Masquerades that chase participants who shoot at it with den guys with no bullets(Akidi). None participants are holed up in the surrounding bushes with Palm frond(Ọmụ) barricades. Udunkulu is performed in Item, while Ajọnkwụ is performed in Ovim, Ahaba and elsewhere in Isuikwuato Local Government Area. “Nwaanyị Otila Ukwu”(The woman with huge behind)  is another harmless and gentle Masquerade for pure entertainment and its style of dancing is a contagious laughing stock amongst  observers especially Children.

In the past, especially before the advent of Christianity, Masquerades played important roles of keeping law and order. Children and young adults were made to be sacred of Masquerades. People were  bound to tell the truth at all times to avoid the wrath  of Masquerades. In this capacity, Masquerades were regarded as the means for maintaining peace and
social order. They were primarily used as unbiased law enforcement agents. Usually during festivals, the entire  village come out for the ceremony of colorful and spectacular masquerades. While Masquerades play entertainment roles, they also display a dual role of combining dancing, acrobatic displays  and other extra-ordinary feats that awe doubting local and foreign Toms.  Also it is not unusual to witness tough  masquerade walk  up to certain individuals and loudly berate them publicly for their hidden  abominable bad habits such as coveting a friend’s wife, serious crimes such as poisoning someone or other  adjudged misbehaviors to society. As crude as this style seems in present day and age, they were very effective  in instilling corrective measures to many would-be deviants of society. Thus the traditional norms and values of the community  were preserved without sacred cows flouting them on basis of economic and politic clouts. Since Masquerades were regarded as spirits, they were no respecters of individuals. Every member of society paid attention.

However, with colonization and Christianity, the spiritual value of the Masquerade has ebbed in many societies with high Christianity index. As a result, masquerades have become more relevant as an institution for cultural display for entertainment only. The law and order spectrum has atrophied as a thing of the past Nowadays, they are used more for tourist attractions when they come out in colorful regalia  accompanied by traditional music and choreographed dancers. Any wonder why all sorts of mistreatment, robbery, kidnapping and other nefarious activities have taken exponential  dimensions in Ala-Igbo..

The other festivals with high octane value in social significance carried out by most communities in Ala – Igbo is the new Yam (Iri Ji Ọhụọ) festival, which marks the beginning of the harvest seasons for new yam. As mentioned before, Arondizuogu seems to have the gold standard for this important festivity in Ala Igbo. The festival takes place around August and October, though the time varies from place to place. The New Yam festival raises the occasion for celebration while offering special prayers to Supreme  God for a bountiful  harvest. It is marked with colorful displays  of cultural songs, dances and masquerades including roasting and toasting of new yams (Ji Ọhụo).

Other important festivities and  ceremonies worth mentioning here are:

·  Traditional marriage ceremonies (Igba Nkwụ) and funeral rites(Ikwa Mmadụ). .

·  Özö title taking, involving ritualistic initiation by other initiated folks.

·  Ezeship and Chieftaincy coronation, an installation rite carried out by titled men;


·  Political Cerebrations where surpluses  are displayed with reckless abandon.


In all the mentioned ceremonies,  Masquerades are used as social displays. That should be the  more reason for  our Children to  be exposed and educated in this important element of Igbo Society. It helps to build character and maturity.


Mazi Ogbonna

Mazi Ogbonna

CEO Mother Tongue Academy

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