Masquerades are important personalities in Igbo land and are a significant component of Igbo culture. They were not just used for entertainment purposes in the past but also functioned in politics too. They were mostly custodians of villages and clan laws. Anyone who violated the laws of the land risk being visited by a masquerade in Igbo land.
In such time, the tales of Igbo masquerades being spirits were still in vogue. Folks believed that these masquerades were not ordinary and were not born by women.
The masquerade community cult was a revered group at that period and every information as regards their existence, place of rest and even their attires were not common knowledge and were not shared to others openly.
It took weeks of exacting initiation rituals to get accepted in the Igbo masquerade cult. The initiation rituals were mostly brutal and only some men could go through it successfully. This might be the reason why women were rarely part of the group.
This article presents some of the most revered masquerades in Igbo land
1. Ijele Masquerade:
Ijele masquerade is the biggest and the king of all masquerades in Igbo land. In any occasion the Ijele masquerade is going to be displayed, expect it to come out last. Before it is showcased, the entire arena would be cleared. Every other masquerade displayed must step aside for the Ijele to take the stage since it does not share the stage with other masquerades.
The Ijele masquerade was listed in the UNESCO Archives as an intangible cultural element in need of safe guarding. In many communities in Anambra state, celebrations, burials and other special events during the dry season to evoke fertility and a bountiful harvest features the performance of the Ijele masquerade.
2. Izaga Masquerade:
The Izaga masquerade is the tallest masquerade in Igbo land. This masquerade is rarely seen in any small occasion in Igbo land. This is because of a lot of technicalities involved in it. During display, the entire audience is held spellbound. Any breach and the Izaga masquerade will come crashing down to the floor, and it is an abomination for an Izaga masquerade to fall.
3. Mmanwu Ugo Masquerade:
Mmanwu Ugo is an entertainment masquerade found among the people of Anambra state. It is a majestic and expensive masquerade that embodies both the character and significance of the Ugo bird (African Eagle).
Eagles unlike vultures, are respected in Igbo land. You will likely only see the Ugo masquerade performing on big events like Ofalas. It shows different subtle and graceful dance steps even up to the moment where it drops to the floor to lay it's eggs.
4. Ojionu Masquerade:
The Ojionu masquerade is a water spirit personality usually represented by a headdress of crocodiles, sharks and other predatory sea creatures. The major characteristic of the Ojionu masquerade is creative non-stop dancing and chanting in occasions. Versions of the Ojionu masquerade varies from those that perform voices only and posses superior mystical powers to those that dance majorly with minimal voices and no or less mystical powers.
The Ojionu masquerade is mostly carried out by mature masquerade men who have mastered the art of masquerade chanting and dancing. And unlike other fearful masquerades, anyone can watch the Ojionu perform and also offer it gifts.
5. Ajikwu Masquerade:
The Ajikwu masquerade is mostly seen at night, as it never comes out in broad daylight. It is revered because it does not come out for no reason. It is a bad omen to be visited by this masquerade at night, as it is a very political masquerade used for enforcing punishments to those that committed an offense.
Ajikwu masquerade is mostly used to collect fines- any family or individual the masquerade visits at night must give something valuable to it, like a goat or an expensive casting. But the Ajikwu masquerade can easily be manipulated and used by evil masquerade chiefs to harm the innocent people in the community.
6. Agaba Masquerade:
The Agaba masquerade also known as Mmuo Agaba is an indigenous Igbo masquerade which originated from Nkanu, an Igbo sub group found mostly in Enugu state. It is known as a matchete-bearing and dreaded masquerade. It has a huge and jutting teeth and ugly persona. Children are not adviced to go near it, as it has been rated to be among the most powerful spirits in Igbo land because of the powerful charms it possesses.
Also, it is said that a pregnant woman must never be allowed to see this masquerade in broad daylight or else she might miscarry.
7. Adamma Masquerade:
The Adamma masquerade is a contemporary maiden spirit masquerade that originates from Enugu state. The name, Adamma literally means 'maiden of beauty'.
However, the masquerade is showcased by men only and is accompanied by music that the masquerade dances to. Unlike other Igbo masquerades, Adamma does not have a spiritual significance behind it but till today, it is revered as the most beautiful masquerade in Igbo land.
The initiation processes and the manner in which the entire masquerade cult is seen by people have however, changed in recent times. It can be said that education is one among the many other factors that have contributed to this change by slowly diminishing it's importance in rural communities in Igbo land.
In my opinion, it is actually a good thing because the masquerade cults are too easy to corrupt and can be used for evil intentions.
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