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Igbo Culture | Igbo Language

Masquerades and Festivals

Igboland holds many festivities and cultural performances, most notably the masquerades and the new Yam festivals.

Masquerades (Mmanwu) are held in accordance with the community native calendars during festivals, annual festivities, burial rites and other social gatherings. The masquerades are geared in colourful robes and masks made of wood or fabric. Some masks appear only at one festival, but the majority appears at many or all. Masquerades are associated with spiritual elements, as according to Igbo belief, they represent images of deities or sometimes even dead relatives. The identity of the masquerade is a well-kept secret and performed exclusively by men.

In the past, masquerades were regarded as the means for maintaining peace and order and were primarily used as law enforcement agents. The whole village would come out for the ceremony of the colourful masquerades. While entertaining through dances and exhibiting extra-human feats, the masquerades would walk up to certain individuals and loudly expose any bad habits, crimes or misbehaviour of that person. As people would always take corrections from these exposures, the masquerades were effective in keeping up with traditional norms and values in the communities.

masquerade
Straw Masquerades in Umunko

With colonisation in the 20th century, masquerades became more relevant as an institution for cultural entertainment. Nowadays, they are used more for tourist attractions when they come out in colourful robes accompanied by traditional dancers and music. The masks are determined by local tradition and beliefs. Best-known are those that represent the spirit of deceased maidens and their mothers symbolising beauty and peacefulness. This masquerade may be accompanied by the elephant spirit, representing ugliness and aggression, which frightens the male spectators away from her beauty. Other characters include the European (Mbeke), a pair of boy and girl (Mba), the boy dressed up as a girl satirising his counterpart, and animals (crocodile, snake etc.) representing various local deities.

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Igbo Masquerades

There is an annual masquerade festival in November organised by Enugu State and involves masquerade groups from various parts of the state. You can click on this link to see more Igbo masquerade photos.

The other festival with high social significance carried out by most communities in Igboland is the new Yam (Iri Ji) festival, which marks the beginning of the harvest seasons for new yam. The festival takes place usually between August and October, though the time varies from one community to the other. The New Yam festival raises the occasion for celebration while offering special prayers to God for a good harvest. It is marked with colourful display of cultural dances and rites, including roasting and toasting of new yams. Obviously, time for feasting and merry-making.

Some other ceremonies worth attending are:

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Masquerade in Umuozzi

Calendar and Time

The traditional calendar in Igboland is based on the lunar calendar. It comprises four market days (Eke, Orie, Afo and Nkwo) with seven weeks per month. With thirteen months a year, this puts the total number to 364 days per lunar year. The beginning and ending of the year are marked in July. The dates for the various village festivals depend on the local native calendar.

The solar month equivalents have been listed below, but note that these months are just approximate comparisons as the solar and lunar calendar do not exactly match with each other:

Lunar monthssolar months
Önwa-mbüJuly
Önwa-aböAugust
Önwa-atöSeptember
Önwa-anöOctober
Önwa-iseNovember
Önwa-isiiDecember
Önwa-asaaDecember/January
Önwa-asatöFebruary
Önwa-itoluMarch
Önwa-iriApril
Önwa-iri na otuMay
Önwa-iri na atöJune
Önwa-iri na anöThirteenth month

Conversation: What time?

♬ Click here to listen to this conversation.
- Olee ihe elekere nö?What time is it?
- Ö nö elekere otu.It is one o’clock.
- Olee oge ï ga-agbasa ölü?When will you be dismissing from work?
- Ana m agbasa n’ elekere anö.I will be dismissing at four o’clock.
- Olee oge ï ga-abia?When will you come?
- Aga m abïa na ojiri ökara gafee elekere anö.I will come at half past four.
- Olee ihe elekere nö?What time is it?
- Ugbua nö n’elekere anö.Now, it is four o’clock.
- O rule.It is time.

Vocabulary

elekeretime, hour, clock
ogetime, period, occasion
gbasaadismiss (verb)
ugbuanow
üböchi ömagood day
ütütü ömagood morning
ehihie ömagood afternoon
abalï ömagood night
kodi na ütütüsee you in the morning (same day)
kodi echisee you tomorrow
mmered
öcha white
edoyellow
atülüblue
ojiiblack
ajalïred earth

Grammar: Prepositions

Prepositions are words used before a noun or pronoun to specify a place, position or time. In Igbo, there is only one preposition na. When preceding a vowel, it has the tone of that vowel and is written n’ instead.

ö nö n’ülöhe is in the house
ö dï n’alait is on the ground
ö dï na jiit is on the yam

In combination with a noun, it can specify the location of the preposition in more detail:

NounPreposition
enutop
okpuruunderside
imeinterior
aküküedge
nain, at, on
n’enuon top of, up
n’okpuruunder, below
n’imeinside
n’akükübeside

Examples:

ö dï n’enu akpatiit is on top of the box
ö dï n’okpuru akpatiit is under the box
ö dï n’ime akpatiit is inside the box
ö dï n’ akükü akpatiit is beside the box