In Igbo culture, the masquerade (Mmanwu) embodies the spirit and human worlds. The mystique surrounding the masquerade is one of the key components of the Igbo culture that survived Western influences.
It is generally believed in the Igboland that the masquerade is a spirit which springs from the soil. The masquerades are classified into categories based on specialization. Each masquerade possesses particular attributes (warrior-like prowess, mystical powers, youthfulness, and old age) and specializes in one or more skills (dancing skills, acrobatics, and other ritual manifestations).
Masquerading may involve one person team or a team made up of instrument players, vocalists, dancers, masquerade advisers, and the masquerade itself. Most masquerades are covered from head to toe with some piece of clothing or/and bamboo rafters, a wooden mask is worn over the face. The mask will vary depending on the type of masquerade and the place of origin within the Igboland. Some masks are designed to be beautiful, intimidating or downright sinister. Most masquerades claim to have some mystical powers and are constantly competing to see which one has the most mystical powers, whenever they appear together especially at village squares or funerals. The masquerade appears during traditional celebrations, funerals and festivals especially the new yam festival.
Below are the Top 25 Most Popular Igbo Masquerades
1. Ijele Masquerade
Ijele is a special and most popular Igbo masquerade and the largest mask system ever to enter the history of the world masking tradition. Ijele has its origin from the norther part of Igbo land (Anambra and Enugu State, Nigeria). known as the biggest Masquerade in Sub-Saharan Africa, Ijele was listed in the UNESCO Archives as an intangible cultural element in need of urgent safeguarding.
Ijele masquerade is the King of all Masquerades and as such has 45 different other masquerades perform on top of it in the olden days. Presently, the 45 masquerades are represented by the 45 figurines seen on top of Ijele. The myth and size of Ijele is wholesome as every aspect of life is depicted on Ijele. It is the climax of all masquerades hence performs alone and mostly last.
2. Izaga: Izaga is the tallest of Igbo masquerades, The Ịzaga masquerades have the ability to grow very tall and also make itself short, Izaga is an entertainment masquerade that comes out during traditional ceremony or festivals for the sole aim of entertaining the spectators.
3. Ulaga: Ulaga is a popular Igbo masquerade although not often seen as the ulaga masquerade comes out occasionally mostly during funerals of titled men to pay its last respect or during any event organised in honours or in acknowledgement of someone’s importance in a community.
4. Agaba: The Agaba masquerade as a character is that of a warrior represented in its name that literally connotes “lets go”. The Agaba major attribute is warrior-like prowess, which specializes, in ritual manifestations. The chanting that accompanies the Agaba cut across ethnic dialects and cultures among the Igbos.
5. Odo: Odo is a masquerade of the Igbo people peculiar to the northern Igbo people of Enugu State. Odo masquerade represents a deity who affords the living a chance to commune with their dead in line with the Igbo Traditional belief. During Odo festival, The dead is said to work freely among the living.
6. Ekpe: The Ekpe masquerade is popular among the Igbo of Abia State, Enugu state and Ebonyi State. Most Ekpe masquerade are used to enforce law in the community and its said to be the link to their ancestors.
7. Igariga: There are also the crowd masquerades that are used during burial ceremonies of titled men and at ofala festivals. Such masquerades are common among young men and usually carry canes with which they scare people away.
8. Ekpo: The Ekpo masquerade acts as a police man who enforces the laws of the land especially the laws of the Ekpo. The Ekpo masquerade is popular among the Igbo of Abia state especially those within Arochukwu.
9. Omewaluigwe: The Omewaluigwe on its own side is a wise masquerade in the sense that it is known for its talkative nature. It goes around making proverbs and speaking parables, while its followers and the audience applaud it.
10. Agbogho mmuo: Agbogho Mmuo masquerade are maiden spirit masks that represent the spirit of dead girls that have manifested in the dancer to come back to parade in their communities. The masks also symbolise the ideals of female beauty among many Nri-Awka Igbo communities.
11. Mmanwu Ugo: Mmanwu Ugo, Eagle masquerade is an entertainment masquerade popular among the people of Anambra. These assume the appearance of the creatures that they have their names attached. And during their display, they do things that are peculiar to those creatures.
12. Enyikwonwa: Enyi kwo nwa is a popular masquerade among the igbo of Enugu state, The masquerade which are usually two in number are accompanied by it cult members. While the masquerade perform to to tone of the music being played by its cult member, its charm carrier clears the way for them.
13. Mmanwu Atu : These assume the appearance of the creatures that they have their names attached. And during their display, they do things that are peculiar to those creatures.
14. Mkpamkpankụ: is a very serious, fully masculine-featured masquerade. Mkpamkpankụ is brisk, aggressive, agile and notorious in its own way. It has the appearance of a person. This masquerade is active to the extent that about two or more strong men are ever around it to with the rope that is tied around its west to draw it back from over acting.
15. Odum mmanwu: These assume the appearance of the creatures that they have their names attached. And during their display, they do things that are peculiar to those creatures.
16. Otawaru Ikpo: Otawaru Ikpo is a dreadful but entertaining masquerade with mystical powers that enables it dance on cassava leaves.
17. Odogwu: The ODOGWU masquerade is a youthful and aggressive character represented by a mask that insinuates “Bloodshot eyed rebel”. Its major attribute is demonstration of youthfulness with specialty in intimidation. The Odogwu is also known for the highly charged chanting that accompany its rhythms.
18. Ojionu: The Ojionu masquerade is a water spirit character represented by a headdress of crocodiles, sharks and other water creatures. The major attribute of Ojionu is creative non-stop dancing.
19. Okwomma: The Okwomma: is the type that carries a cutlass, well sharpened. It uses this to shake hands, to collect money and to greet people who are in the cult, or other great masquerades.
20. Ngwu: Ngwu is a popular igbo masquerade named after the ngwu deity, the ngwo masquerade only comes out once if a while or during the burial of a great man or initiate in the community, Ngwu masquerades are great dancers. Most ngwu masquerade are seen at the graveside of an initiate lamenting just before and after the person has been laid to rest.
21. Ebu: The Ebu masquerades usually come out of a box, the masquerade have the ability to fold itself like a paper, grow very tall and also make itself short.
22. Omaba: Omaba is a popular Igbo masquerade among the Igbos within the northern Igbo area of Nsukka, Omaba masquerade comes in different masks and mostly appear and display during the omaba festival.
23. Mgbadike: Mgbadike is a warrior masquerade which wields axes and cutlass, and its guide would use the cutlass to cut open his mouth without inflicting any injury on himself.
24. Udo Akpu Enyi: The Okwomma is the type that carries a cutlass, well sharpened. It uses this to shake hands, to collect money and to greet people who are in the cult, or other great masquerades.
25. Ajofia: Ajofia meaning Evil forest is a popular masquerade from the nnewi axis of Anambra state, it is said that Ajofia doesn’t come out during festive periods, only when a “Strong” titled man passes on.