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Meet the Ijele Masquerade

Ijele Masquerade, known as the biggest Masquerade in Sub-Saharan Africa, is a tradition of the Igbo people of Nigeria and was listed in the UNESCO Archives as an intangible cultural element in need of urgent safeguarding. In many communities in the state of Anambra in South-Eastern Nigeria, celebrations, burial ceremonies and other special occasions during the dry season to evoke fertility and a bountiful harvest feature the performance of the Ijele masquerade.

In many communities in the state of Anambra in south-eastern Nigeria, celebrations, burial ceremonies and other special occasions during the dry season to evoke fertility and a bountiful harvest feature the performance of the Ijele masquerade. The mask is about four metres tall – so large that it takes a hundred men six months of work to prepare the costume and build an outdoor house to hold it before a performance. Divided into upper and lower segments by a large python at the centre, the ijele is constructed of colourful fabric on a skeleton of bamboo sticks and decorated with figurines and depictions of every aspect of life. The towering masked figure dances at the culmination of a series of other masquerades, protected by six ‘police’ and carrying a mirror with the power to draw in and punish evildoers. Ijele mask carriers, chosen by ballot, seclude themselves for three months, during which they live on a special diet to acquire the strength necessary to don the mask. The masquerade plays a number of important roles in the community: spiritually, it marks both festive and solemn occasions; politically, it provides an opportunity to reaffirm loyalty to a chief or king; and culturally it provides a popular entertainment as young boys and girls sing and dance to the tunes of Akunechenyi music.

Sources; Wikipedia & https://ich.unesco.org/en/RL/ijele-masquerade-00194

Tony Osborg

tony.osborg@hometown.ng

Tony Osborg is a creative and analytic writer with interest ranging from investigations to procurement, project management, sociopolitical research, web development and community development.

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