In Igbo land, masquerades are seen as superior beings. When a masquerade is seen in public, they have to be treated with respect because it is believed that they embody both the spirit and human worlds. There’s also a popular theory that the masquerades spring from the soil, making them higher than man, and regarded as such.
Masquerading may require a one-person team or a team of more people which may include vocalists who hail the masquerades, drummers and players who play the instruments, advisers and then, the masquerade itself. Most of these masquerades have a mask on their face and are covered from head to toe with some piece of clothing or/and bamboo rafters.
Depending on the type of masquerade and where it comes from, it may differ. Some of the masks are meant to be beautiful because the masquerade connotes beauty among others. On the other hand, the others are sinister and are feared whenever they make an appearance. In Igbo land, masquerades appear during traditional celebrations, funerals and festivals, particularly the New Yam Festival.
Every masquerade holds distinct attributes that distinguish them and builds a storyline or a personality. They may be a war masquerade, or a pretty one, or an old one. They may also be specialized in skills such as dancing, acrobatics, talking and a host of others.
Here are some festive masquerades you’ll find in Igbo land
Adamma is a contemporary maiden spirit mask worn by men and particular to some villages in the South-Eastern part of Nigeria. The ceremonial masquerade is named after Adamma, a name loosely translated to ‘beautiful woman’ and reserved for the first daughter of a family. She is always gorgeously dressed in colourful attires and dances so beautifully that most times, people wonder whether it’s actually a man under the mask.
The Ijele masquerade originated from the Old Anambra state, and it is the largest mask system ever to enter the history of the world masking tradition. Ijele is the King of all Masquerades and in the olden days, used to have forty-five different masquerades perform on top of it. Currently, these forty-five masquerades are represented by the figurines seen on top of Ijele. It is the climax of all masquerades and performs alone and mostly last. In many communities in South-East Nigeria, the Ijele is brought to evoke fertility and a bountiful harvest feature. It also makes an appearance during celebrations, burial ceremonies and other special occasions.
This masquerade is a very stern one and also fully masculine-featured. They’re typically brisk, aggressive, agile and notorious in their own way. They’re also mainly worn by youths because they’re active masquerades so much so that about two or more strong men are ever around it with a rope that is tied around its waist to draw it back from overacting.
The Izaga masquerade is probably the tallest Igbo masquerade and can be seen as a comic masquerade or an entertainment one. They can grow shorter, and grow taller as well. They make an appearance during traditional ceremonies or festivals for the sole aim of satisfying the observers.
The Odo is a masquerade peculiar to the Agbaja (Ngwo and environs) people of Enugu state. Typically, the Odo masquerade represents a deity who provides the living with a chance to commune with their dead in line with belief and customs. During Odo festival, The dead are said to work freely among the living through the manifestation of this masquerade.
There are hosts of other masquerades in Igbo land that serve various purposes and various functions. Just as they’re expected to be revered, they are also not allowed to abuse their powers.