BY Deborah Dzifa Makafui, 12:00pm November 20, 2022,

Here are four of Nigeria’s most revered masquerades

The Eyo masquerades performing at the Abuja Carnival, 26th November, 2005. Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Gogeafrica

In terms of facial features and other practices, masquerades are comparable to Halloween in other countries. In some Nigerian communities, masquerades are common at festivals and on significant days like coronations. They enhance events with joy and glitz because some of them are dancers or showboaters. 

Some serve as God’s messengers by conveying a message to the populace. They chant in a language that only occultists can understand. There are those who use canes and have the power to frighten and even flog onlookers. Most kids hide because they can’t tolerate how these things seem. Whatever one’s opinion of masquerades, they play an important role in African culture. I want to highlight various masquerades in this article and explain why they are important to the communities they serve. 


The Omabe masquerade ritual has been a part of Nigeria’s Enugu State’s cultural environment for countless generations. Cultural or religious masquerades frequently include masked dancers portraying various spirits. Omabe masqueraders are thought to be incarnations of Nsukka’s forefathers. These ancestors are honored in the area through yearly customary celebrations. Onwa Asa (the seventh moon), Onwa Eto (the third moon), and Onunu are a few of these celebrations. The timing of celebrations varies among Nsukka communities throughout the year. It is claimed that during these festivals, the revered ancestors participate in the festivities by emerging from ant holes as various types of Omabe masquerades. These masquerades, especially the Oriokpa (the traditional police of Omabe), linger among the residents of Nsukka for varying amounts of time. They are thought to monitor how the populace is conducting its business. 


Five groups of Orisas (deities) serve as the head of Eyo Lagos’ most revered and significant festival, Adamu Orisa Play, also known as Eyo masquerade and frequently performed on the streets of Lagos Island, Eko. The sole masquerade that takes place on Lagos Island is called the Eyo. It is thought to represent the ancestors’ spirits. Every morning, each Eyo leaves the Iga (palace) of the reigning family and goes to the temple (Agodo). It is completely covered in a white, flowing robe. The upper robe, known as the “agbada,” and the “aropale,” are both parts of the flowing white garment (the bottom wrap-around). It is assumed that no part of the person carrying the Eyo will be visible. The Eyo also dons an “Akete” headgear that displays the Iga’s flag and shield’s colors. An Eyo may attach ribbons to the Opambata (palm branch) he is carrying in the colors of his Iga. There could be up to 100 members in an Iga’s Eyo. Every Eyo who wears a robe must pay a charge for the right to do so. 


A bountiful harvest is celebrated with the Ijele masquerade performance in various communities in the state of Anambra in south-eastern Nigeria during festivities, burials, and other important occasions throughout the dry season. It takes a hundred men six months to prepare the costume and construct an outdoor building to accommodate the four-meter-tall mask before a performance. The Ijele is made of vibrant cloth on a frame of bamboo poles, divided into upper and lower pieces, and embellished with figurines and representations of every facet of life. The tall, masked figure dances at the conclusion of other masquerades while being guarded by six “police” and wielding a mirror that has the ability to both attract and punish evildoers. Ijele mask carriers are chosen by ballot, and they live in seclusion for three months while adhering to a specific diet in order to gain the strength required to don the mask. The masquerade serves a number of important functions in the community, including spiritually marking joyful and solemn occasions, politically offering a chance to affirm allegiance to a chief or king, and culturally offering amusement for the general public as young boys and girls sing and dance to the rhythms of Akunechenyi music. 


The masquerade itself, which is typically made of red and black but can occasionally also be found in other colors, is the most recognizable aspect of the Ekpe cult art form. It features large round glituans worn at the top of the body to resemble a lion’s mane, as well as smaller versions around the ankles and wrists known as “mkpat etim” and “Itong Ubok Etim.” The masquerader’s left hand is holding a bundle of oboti leaves and his right is holding a long stick. It is impossible to determine what the two represent in their entirety beyond spiritual authority and leadership authority taken separately. However, it was believed in the past that there was hope if the Ekpe struck someone with the leaves because that merely represented casting away the evil from the person. On the other hand, it would be fatal if the Ekpe struck the victim with the staff. 

Despite being extensive, the list does not include all masquerades that are connected to particular communities on a cultural level. Masquerades are a prominent element of Nigerian society even though they are typically thought to be cultural or religious celebrations that frequently include masked dancers representing various spirits. 

Last Edited by:seo zimamedia Updated: November 22, 2022


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