African masquerade is the hidden personality of the spirits, ancestors and deity of the African people. It is the representation of the gods in human form.
An ancient proverb says…
A masquerade is not a spirit only because of its mask.
Welcome friends to another magical time with me. I believe you’ve been hearing so much tale about African masquerade. Tales about flogging or chasing people. Well, sit back and relax, while I fill you in on this gist.
If you have not heard about African masquerade, still feel at home. You can grab a cup of coffee/tea as we study.
What Is African Masquerade
African masquerade is humans putting on a particular/ special kind of costume depicting an extraterrestrial being. These beings can be humans who have lived long ago in the community and have done some heroic deed in the past.
In honour of these heroes and to call their spirit to the land in times of help, the villagers appoint a person worthy of this assignment to represent this being.
It is believed that, when all physical attributes are meant, the spirit of the late human can take over the living and pass a message.
For this purpose to be accomplished, all requirement is made. From sex, age, personality, and character. For others, the gods chose them regardless of their opinions.
The African masquerade can also be a spirit that has never existed. In Africa, it is normal for us to hear stories from people who have been visited by unknown beings.
These spirits give warning about future dangers and a herb that can bring perfect healing to an enduring sickness. It also tells how to withstand a calamity or just bring good tidings.
If what the spirit said comes to pass, he/she will be celebrated/honoured. Also in the future, a masquerade will be created for that creature alone and this is how African masquerade came to be.
Types Of Masquerade
There are four major types of African masquerade…
1. Deities/nature Masquerade
These types of African masquerade are spirits from deities or nature. What I mean by deities, is that, before Christianity or Islam came to Africa, there has always been the belief in the supreme being.
In regards to the teachings of the bible/koran, about creation and the existent of gods, African traditional religion also has its beliefs. This belief is what we practice before the new religion.
We do not refer to them as God but deities. We know there is a supreme power who knows our beginning and end and when we die, we will return to him.
We also believe that this deity has power. The power to reward good and to punish evil instantly. If a crime is committed, and we wish to know who did it, we asked the gods.
Furthermore, if the person is found guilty, the gods punish them instantly for carrying out such evil. Due to this, people are scared to do any evil in the land.
However, with the arrival of Christianity and Islam, the belief system has changed. Now, we wait for Christ or Allah to judge.
In regards to nature spirits, it involves the spirit that lives in rivers, streams, rocks, and trees. The spirits are not manmade but supernatural being who occupies these elements.
No one can tell of their nature or where they come from. It is believed that the spirits appear to humans in their dreams, taking the shape of an animal or anything they feel like.
Sometimes, they talk to humans when they come in contact with it. Like when they sit on a rock, bathing in the river, or chopping down a tree. Is hard to believe right? A talking tree? well, that’s it.
Examples of Deity/Nature Masquerade
This masquerade is a deity in Anambra state Nigeria. It is an African masquerade that has gain prominence globally over the years because of its height, size and weight.
In 2009, UNESCO published that this masquerade is of great value to the community spiritually, politically and for entertaining. So as a cultural heritage, it should be preserved with all its elements.
The Ijele masquerade is acknowledged as the largest masquerade in sub-Sahara africa, with a height of 12/15ft. It takes six months to make the mask and 100 able-bodied men to complete this task.
As a deity, the people pray to Ijele before the planting season for a bountiful harvest and fertility. It encompasses all aspects of life.
It is made up of two segments. The upper and the lower section, divided by a large Python. The upper part is called Mkpu Ijele while the down part is called Akpakwuru. It is so big that if it’s going for performance, a special house is created in an open space for free movements.
To be able to carry this African masquerade, the individual, after chosen, will be kept and taken care of. He will be put in an enclosed space for three months before the day of the performance. Also, because of its size, movements are limited to grace like moves, accompanied by Ijele masquerade special music.
Spiritually it brings about growth and abundance. Politically, it reaffirms the authority of a king/ chief. It also serves as cultural entertainment for young boys and girls.
It is an antelope diagram of the Bamana people of Mali. Society believed this nature spirit taught humans the act of farming. Tyiwara is reverence in art and dance.
According to the myth of the Bamana people, Tyiwara used a stick to dig the soil so that humans can cultivate. This made the earth easy for farming.
Humans watch closed as Tyiwara tilled the soil, and then replicate the action. Tyiwara then covered the seeds with its toe.
The humans did the same and in time, there was a bountiful harvest for all. Years later, the people became wasteful of their crops and Tyiwara was angry. Later on, he buried himself in the earth.
To honour Tyiwara, this became a festival and a masquerade was created in his honour too. To signify the rein of bountiful harvest and fertility, this process became a tradition of the Bamana people of Mali.
In Burkina Faso among the southern people of Bwa, a huge wooden mask is created for water spirits which in turn are used for the masquerade.
According to Bwa mythology, flying spirits show themselves to humans offering safety and services. In honour of these spirits, the Nwantantay African mask was created to ensure its continuous service.
During festivals, initiation, rites, and burial ceremony, the mask is worn by the masquerader displaying their dancing skills.
2. Ancestors Masquerade
They are masquerade that represents the spirits of our forefathers called ancestors. It can be the spirit of a late king, mother, father, priest, who in the past, have done great deeds for the community.
Ancestry spirits can either be good or evil but we hope to be visited by the good spirits. This spirit helps us in our time of needs. When it appears to you, you are not scared because you know them.
It is from this spirit Africans get the words like ancestry curse. An ancestry curse is a proclamation made by evil ancestors or an ancestor who was killed unjustly. For such a spirit, they need to appeal to release the people from the curse.
Examples of Ancestors Masquerade
Egungun is a Yoruba masquerade from the southwest of Nigeria. It is a physical representation of the departed members of a family. It visits the community occasionally for blessings, celebration and reverence.
This African masquerade connects the past to the future and the spiritual to the physical. When it comes out, it gives blessings to its extended family and the community at large.
It is an ancestor masquerade from the southeast of Nigeria. An African masquerade that consists of only male secret cult performers.
It makes use of elaborate colourful costumes to invoke the ancestry spirit.
is an African masquerade from the Esan people of Nigeria. For the people, they are ancestry spirits who visit their loved ones.
Myth has it that, they are an instrument in the creation story and that they are responsible for the destiny of the people.
3. Spiritual Influencers
These are humans with spiritual powers who can see the spiritual realm and the physical. Due to this great ability, sometimes, the people invite them to represent a spirit.
The spirit can be an ancestry spirit or deity. They connect people to the spirit world and bring back words for the individual or community. They are the bridge between the two worlds.
Due to the intricacies of the art, they become masquerade to disguise their personality. Respect will not be given and their words might not be taken seriously if their true identity is revealed. So it’s best if they are not known.
4. Masquerading Entertainers
This African masquerade sole purpose is to entertain and make some money for themselves. They are called modern-day masquerade.
Entertainment masquerade might wear the same costume as the spirit/ ancestry masquerade, but they do not have any power. Neither do they communicate with any supernatural being.
It is this type of masquerade that chase and flog people. They flog when you come too close. Also if women are not allowed to see them, they chase them away.
For their ultimate performance, they wear colourful African masquerade costume. It depicts any creature they feel like and they dance excellently to create awe from spectators.
Importance of African Masquerade In The Society
- African Masquerade bridge the gap between the spirit realm and the physical.
- They are the representation of the past and present
- Politically, anyone the masquerade bows to, show a sign of loyalty.
- They restore order in society by punishing offenders of the traditions.
- They are the physical representation of our forefathers.
- They are custodial of the community.
- They help in restoring a balance between the physical world and the spirit world.
- They inform us of things we could not originally see with our mere eyes.
- They are a representation of African rich cultures.
- They are unique performers and an amazing form of entertainment and tourism.
Relationship Between African Masquerade And African Mask
When we talk about African masquerade, there is no way we cannot talk about African mask. Nonetheless, what is the link between this two?
List Of Masquerade Festivals
- Egungun festival
- Agbogho Mmuo festival
- Nudukwu festival
- Eyo festival
- Gelede festival
- Sigi festival
- Omabe festival
IS Masquerade Still In EXistence?
African masquerade is still in existence but they do not perform as much as possible. People no longer believe in them because of the introduction of Christianity and Islam.
Also, Africans now believe through these festivals, one can be cursed or bewitch. Due to this, they have low followers and attendees.
What is invoked, is that the spiritual aspect of African masquerade is being taken away. What we have now is more entertainment
African masquerade is a broad topic and it tells of the people’s culture and traditions. It is the representation of the deity/nature spirits in human form.
They link the spirit world to the physical and translate the words of the spirit to us. They bring good tidings and bountiful harvest to our lands. It is a great African culture to be preserved.
Thanks, friends, for being here. Please like and share this post if you enjoyed this session. Also, let me know what you think about the Africa masquerade and if you have any African topic you would love us to explore, do not hesitate to contact me.