In Igbo land, there are many traditional festivals of which masquerade is just one. The mmanwu festival as it’s called in accordance to varying Igbo communities depends on the dictates of the clan or kindred. Masquerades are seen in different occasions such as New Yam festivals or other annual festivals, burial rites and social gatherings.
The masquerades have different caliber. Some are for children, youth and others for the adult. Some are friendly while others are dangerous. Some are seen seasonally, others as often as they could while others are seen only once in a year or on serious occasions.
Masquerades are made in colourful robes and masks made of wood or fabric. Masquerades are associated with spiritual elements in accordance to belief as they represent images of deities or even dead relatives. The identity of a masquerade is a secret, only known by men involved and must never be let out to the public.
Masquerades are usually seen as an instrument of peace and order and primarily as law enforcement agents. In the past, while they entertain the community, a masquerade could walk up to an individual and loudly expose the person’s bad habits or crimes to the person. Thus, people would quickly adjust to societal mores of the society.
Masquerade became culturally relevant about the 20th century as a means of entertainment. Thus, they began to serve as tourist attractions especially in their official outing where they are accompanied by music and dancers.
The mask of a masquerade is mystic. In this way, you have a mask depicting beauty and peacefulness accompanied by elegant spirit; in others you have ugliness and aggression which often appears as ugly mask that frightens spectators. You could have some masks depicting snake, crocodile or any animal as the group considers a representative of their local deities.
In Enugu state where the real masquerade festivals comes up nearly every November, several communities and towns and groups prepare and come to showcase their grace, elegance and swagger. It is often a serious competition where result is often announced after the display. However, as expected, exuberance is creeping into it such that it often ends up in a fight between one group and the other.
On the announced day, the community and spectators would come out and stand at strategic positions to watch the gladiators in the contest. It is a scene to behold.