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Masquerade is defined as a party or group of people with masks. In Nigeria, masquerades appear during festivals, ceremonies or rituals. They dance, sing and recite incantations. Majority of the masquerades are youths with strength to make dance moves and jumps. Some performs unexplainable actions like somersaulting, bringing out fire from the mouths. They are mostly known to flog people. This act is rooted in the culture and a cultural heritage practiced by the tribes in Nigeria. Masquerades are different from each other in terms of functions, structures and festivals. A masquerade that will come out during the harvest period is different from the one that will display during the carnivals or during the death of a king.
It is part of our tradition that is recognized by the society and passed down from one generation to another. In Nigeria, some families are known to be masqueraders and some even bear a name related to masquerades. Masquerades are known to have spiritual powers, magic and charms. The masks and clothes worn by the masquerades are seen as totem- sacred objects which should not be touched by an ordinary being. There is another belief that they represent the ancestors.
Masquerades In Igbo Land
The Igbo people see masquerades as people from the soil, ancestors or the dead spirits. They are called the Mmanwu and they have special features such as spiritual power, magic and acrobatic abilities. Masquerades come out during yam festivals, harvest period, burial, coronation of a king/chief, traditional marriage or New Year festivals. They are dressed in heavy and colourful attire or raffia with wooden masks which can be scary at times.Most masks depict the kind of masquerades, events and origin. They can appear as a team or single entity.
During harvest period, gratitude is given to God for the bountiful harvest and masquerades come out to amuse the people. Masquerades majorly serve as a means of amusement, a way to appease the gods for bountiful harvest and prosperity, protectors and security agents They can also serve as law-maintaining and enforcing agents. In the olden days, anyone with bad or wicked deeds runs away from masquerades because they expose the unclean people.
Being a masquerade is like being in a secret organization. The association consists of men, majorly those in their youthful age. They are being initiated and membership is kept as a secret from the villagers or members of the society and only known by those in the group. Examples of masquerades common among the Igbo people are the Ojionu, Agbada, Ogogwu masquerades.
Masquerades in Yoruba Land
The Yoruba people refer to their masquerades as “Egungun” while the singular form is “Egun”. They have a period or festival once in a year dedicated to the masquerades known as the “Odun Egun” which serves as a way of honouring their dead forefathers and deities. Masquerades come out during the festival known as the “Egungun festiva” (which usually take place in the dry season), death of a ruler, It is a tradition and custom that is peculiar to families, clans and tribes. They also wear colourful robes and they drum, dance and perform magic. The robes signify wealth, status and are believed to have ancestral powers in that as soon as a person wears it, he is being transformed and connected with the ancestors or deities. Only the men wear the masquerades clothes and masks.
During the Egungun festivals, the masquerades prays, warns and give message to the rulers and the society as a whole with the voices that are believed to be that of the ancestors. They go about with whips and flogs anyone that stands in the way of the sprits. Examples include elewe, alapansanpa etc.