In Nigeria, masquerades appear during festivals, ceremonies or rituals. They dance, sing and recite incantations. Many of the masquerades are youths with strength to make dance moves and jumps. Some performs unexplainable actions like somersaulting, spitting fire from the mouth. They are mostly known to flog people. This act is rooted in the culture and a cultural heritage practiced by the tribes in Nigeria. Masquerades are different from each other in terms of functions, structures and festivals. A masquerade that will come out during the harvest period is different from the one that will display during the carnivals or during the death of a king.
This is not new to us, as it is part of our tradition that is recognized by the society and passed down from one generation to another. In Nigeria, some families are known to be masqueraders and some even bear a name related to masquerades. Masquerades are known to have spiritual powers, magic and charms. The masks and clothes worn by the masquerades are seen as totem- sacred objects which should not be touched by an ordinary being. There is another belief that they represent the ancestors.
Here is a list of some of the various masquerades in South-Western Nigeria;
The “Eyo” which originates from Lagos is a special kind of masquerade that only shows its dancing prowess during the Eyo Festival. The “Eyo” are dressed in white apparels with a hat and hold a traditional iconic staff known as “Opambata”, they represent the spirits of the dead, and are referred to in Yoruba as “agogoro Eyo” literally known as “tall Eyo”. Legend says the “Eyo”came as a result of the need to protect a deity from the activities of hooligans who wanted to destroy or steal it.
Also known for his visit to Olubadan’s palace June every year, in and outside Ibadan, the Alapansanpa masquerade was used in the past to fight and win many wars . It is said that if Alapasanpa doesn’t go to the Olubadan’s Palace, there will be no be peace and prosperity in the land and that means the Olubadan is a bad person.
Atipako is known as a ‘load-carrying’ masquerade that is accompanied by women. The ancestral rites is chiefed by a community or family elder referred to as ‘Alaagba’. Atipako masquerade always carries stones, mortar and pestle on his head. This portrays its significance for blessing the masses and the land. It comes out annually in June and spiritually cleanses the community.
Agemo is celebrated among the Ijebu people. The festival is a week-long event marked with great festivities, traditional routines and an important feature which is the presence of the “Agemo”masquerades. The “Agemo” group file out one after the other to showcase their skills and perform magical tricks while the drummers beat their drums and songs are rendered to entertain people.
Egungun is otherwise known as masked ancestors of the Yoruba land which assures the people that the dead are among the living. The festival is set off when the Chief priest of the Egugun Masquerades invokes the spirit of the ancestors ,this act is known as ”Alapi”, it is done when the Egugun masquerade and worshippers dance , drum and are now possessed by the ancestral spirit. The Egungun masquerade is dressed in colourful regalia with a whip ,which is used to flog anyone in the way of the spirits .
Oladunwo is very popular in Okemesi, Ekiti State. It is usually present during the Egungun festival of the Okemesi people. Oladunwo is generally believed by Okemesi people to have saved and protected them during the Yoruba inter-ethnic wars especially during the “Ekiti Paraapo” (an alliance with the Ijesha people) war.
Obadimeji masquerade is worshiped by the Opayinka, Opadiran and Ojesanmi family in Ibadan. History says that any member of the family that abandons the family tradition of worshipping the masquerade will be in trouble for the rest of his life. Its costume is usually sown with materials like red lace, damask, and other types of unique materials except white.