Igbo masks

Igbo people live in the southeast of Nigeria. Very important part of their daily living is the masquerade or mmanwu. Masquerades are organized as part of various festival, burial services and other similar events. There is the Annual Masquerade Festival held each November in the Enugu State. Masked performances can also be seen between August and September as part of the Yam (Iri Yi) Festival.

The Igbos made their masks out of wood or fabric. Some masks appear only on certain events. But it is much more common to see the same masks on almost all events. There are some minor differences from region to region.

Igbo mask
Igbo mask

Only men are allowed to wear masks. Performers must not show their true identity. Nowadays masquerades are usually just part of entertainment observed by tourists.

It is interesting to mention that masquerades were once used as the powerful tool or regulating peace and order in the community. All the people living in certain community were gathered to observe a performance. During the performance one of masked characters approached some people and told all about their bad habits or something like that. Persons exposed usually changed their past behaviour.

Masks represent ancient Igbo deities or the souls of dead people. Very popular masks are those representing spirits of the deceased maidens and their mothers. Such masks are symbolizing beauty and peaceful personality.

The Igbo masquerades also include masks like the Elephant spirit, Mbeke ("European"), pair of boy and girl, crocodile, snake and various deities.