The Eyo is characterised by the unique ghost-like costume of the actors and is indigenous to the Island of Lagos. On the Festival days, the Eyo emerge from designated sacred Royal Houses(Iga). They then travel around the island armed with long smoothened palm branches which are used in blessing those they encounter. The Eyo is barred by sacred decree from crossing the waters of the lagoon surrounding Lagos Island, further adding to the mystery.
This classic Yoruba masquerade, with centuries-old origins, is a common cultural outpost of the Yoruba people of Western Nigeria and the Republic of Benin. The Egungun costume is largely fabric-based and completely conceals the human form. The Egungun emerge from sacred shrines across Yorubaland during special celebrations and festivals after the performance of ancient rituals. They then journey around the community armed with a wooden cane, which they use to lightly flog the public in a mock demand for respect.
The Igunnuko is a slim tall presence, with a frilly, brightly-coloured fabric composition, reaching up to 10 feet at its full height. The incredible feature of its performance is its ability to instantaneously shrink to under a foot, thus earning it the title of ‘the magical masquerade’. Whilst largely performing in Western Nigeria and the Republic of Benin, its origins are in Nupeland, in the Middle Belt of Nigeria.
The Ijele Masquerade
The imposing apparitional form of this brightly coloured, multilayered masquerade has been heralded for centuries as the largest in Sub-Saharan Africa. Towering at 12 to 15 feet, the Ijele’s sheer mass has earned it the title of the ‘King of Masquerades’ by the Igbo people, from whose territory in Eastern Nigeria the Ijele emanates. Ijele represents the spirits of the illustrious ancestors(Ndi Ichie) in their most magnificent form. The structure contains 45 representations of the mystic spirits of Igboland along with mystic mirrors that have the ability to detect evil. It takes around 100 people and 60 days to prepare Ijele for its appearance. To witness the magnificence of Ijele is to experience the majesty and power of Igbo culture.
Agbogho Mmuo Masquerade
The Agbogho Mmuo is described as the ‘maiden masquerade’. This masquerade is identified by a long-faced carved mask, with dainty features painted intricately on a white coloured facial paint base. The masquerade’s movements are effeminate and nimble, while executing intricate dance movements. While Agbogho Mmuo originated in the Awka area of Northern Igboland, it can be found in several towns in Eastern Nigeria.
The Dogon people of the Sahelian region of West Africa have a masquerade tradition dating back several centuries. There are various forms of Dogon mask plays, the most spectacular being the sacred Emina, in which several wooden, horned masquerades emerge in a procession and dance in a complex, well-rehearsed pattern after performing sacred rites.
The masquerade traditions of the Congolese Pende people represent the spirits of the ancestors returned to guide and protect the living. The Pende Masquerade consists of a carved wooden mask in either human or animal form representing a sacred spirit. They are famed for their energetic and complex dance forms, which are accompanied by feverish drumming from a Rhythm Orchestra.
Information sourced by Professor Ed Keazor – Ed Emeka Keazor is a historian, lawyer, author and documentary filmmaker. His books include ‘120 Great Nigerians You Never Knew’ and ‘The Nigerian History Photo-book’. His film ‘Onunaekwuluora’, on archaeologist Professor Thurstan Shaw, documents Shaw’s uncovering of Igbo-Ukwu artworks that proved the Igbo people had created complex works of art 1000 years ago. In 2014, he received an award for his work on African history from The African Society of Cambridge University.