One interesting thing about my Country, Nigeria, in West Africa is the cultural richness and diversity. This is evident in the colorful presentation of the various masquerades from the various tribes and tongues, and then among the various age gradings too. Among the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory that make up the country Nigeria, you will almost find clearly divergent presentations of the Masquerade, including the myth sorrounding it.
There is however one contention that hold the various myths together, and that is that the masquerades come from the land of the dead, or the underworld and represent our ancestors or visiting departed souls in various shades.
Let us travel to Anambra State of Nigeria. We are now within the two primary months of the year (August and September) during which one town or the other will be celebrating “The New Yam Festival”. This is clearly “The Feast of the First Fruits” in Iboland, the Ibos or Igbos being the tribe that occupy the state that is known as Anambra State. The traditional and main crop of the Ibos is the Yam. All other crops pale into trado-cultural insignificance when the Yam is being talked about. This is the period when farmers, subsistence and commercial, start harvesting the Yam, and it is a cultural taboo in Iboland to eat or consume the Yam before “The Yam Festival” has come and gone in the particular town on question.
The Yam Festival is really a very colorful festival to behold. One is never tired of beholding the various dance troupes displaying their art and acrobatics, while the various masquerades come out in their full colours, accompanied by flutists, drummers, singers and what have you. The various masquerades are really a spectacle to behold. Children, youths, and even the elderly move from place to place, from vantage point to vantage point to have a full views of many of the masquerades and to later recount on the number of masquerades they saw and how beautiful, how well they danced , and which they consider the best dancer and/or the most beautiful. Mild and hilarious arguments often ended the discussions and comparisons.
An Ibo adage that is an offshoot of the movement of the people around to have a full view of the masquerades is : “You do not watch a masquerade from only one vantage position.”
It is during this Yam Festival that the King of the Village or Town as the case may be, will bring some roasted yams with well-spiced red palm oil, invoke blessings of God that allowed good harvest, slice the roasted yam and then pass pieces around for consumption
It is usually after this cultural outing that people are allowed to freely eat the yam in the land. Individual chiefs in the land do their own festivity again in the household with style, killing cockerels and goats as their purses can buy and giving to the women folk to use in preparing delicious pots of soup for consumption of marching bowls of pounded yam.
The Masquerade is indeed a beautiful colorful mobile artwork to behold.