From circling ant colonies as kids, waiting and hoping for that nerve-chilling moment of witnessing a masquerade emerge in a flurry of smoke, listening to tales of dreaded masquerades who only come out at night to carry stubborn children away to the land of the spirits as punishment for insubordination.
Masquerade has been a fascinating phenomenon to behold in Igbo cosmology. Experiences might differ but nonetheless, the word masquerade may not sound alien to an average Igbo individual unless the person is from the moon or living on the illusion-induced ignorance birthed by the status of diaspora.
Nwankwo (2015) Describes masquerade “…as ancestral spirits, whose interests in the affairs of their living descendants compel them to visit the community during festivals, funerals and when things are not normal in the community”.
Onyeneke pointed out that the living dead is what these masquerades embody. Thus the essence of masquerade is propagated by the belief amongst the Igbos that there is a link between supernatural and natural forces.
Candidly, it’s ideal to highlight the importance of double perspective as a prerequisite lens in this work, on that note I’d like to highlight some contrasting views.
Jideofor (2018) reiterates that as a result of the oral tradition of the Igbo culture that lacks proper documentation, all attempts to provide answers on masquerades are simply a hypothesis since most of the core information on the origin of masquerades had been lost.
He therefore, concluded that masquerade can be said to have its origin merely as a recreational means.
There are various types of masquerades in Igbo culture, each has its distinct features and Symbolical attributes.
● IJELE: Known as the biggest masquerade in Sub-Saharan Africa, often referred to as the king of all masquerades. It has a reputation of being the last masquerade on display on any occasion. Ijele stands as a symbol of fertility and bountiful harvest, it’s mostly on display at the funeral of kings and powerful men.
● Izaga: This masquerade can be said to be the tallest masquerade. If not for the swift motion required for basketball, barring the sport to be based just on height, Izaga could have been the Igbo nation’s biggest export to the NBAs. Izaga is known for its mesmeric hold on spectators whenever on display.
●Adamma: A peaceful, non-terrifying masquerade. Stands as a symbol of beauty, hence the name Adamma which translates to ‘Maiden of Beauty’. Often displayed in colorful festivals of celebration.
●Ajiukwu: This particular masquerade is never seen in daylight. Symbolically it’s a bad omen to be visited by this masquerade at night. It’s used to police or punish defaulters. Used to collect fines from defaulting households.
There are many types of masquerade that I may not be able to highlight such as; Agaba, Ajohia, Oji Onu e.t.c
Roles of masquerade in Igbo.
● Security Purposes: Masquerade serve as security agents in some villages.
● Enforcement of law: Some Masquerades serve as agents for enforcement of law and sanctions in the community. When a defaulter is fined, the masquerade is used to enforce the collection of such fine.
● Honouring the dead: Because of the important role it plays in the nexus between the dead and living, Masquerade is being displayed at funerals as a way to honor the dead.
● Entertainment and recreational services: Masquerades are displayed during Festivals, like New yam and Chieftaincy coronation.
In conclusion, masquerade is an intriguing phenomenon in the Igbo Culture. At the full climax of its display, it’s a beauty to watch. On the craft side, it showcases the aesthetics of Igbo culture by turning plain materials into iconic artifacts, little wonder most of these valuables end up in foreign museums. Thus, like every institution of prestige in the society, membership isn’t done casually or easily, rather It involves indoctrinated passage of initiation into the cult.