Misuse of masquerades in Igbo land unacceptable  — Monarchs

…Youths now use masquerade to intimidate people 

…Masquerades now linked with banned drug usage 

…Youths have turned it from object of celebration to weapon 

MASQUERADES are one of the noble and cherished aspects of Igbo tradition and culture. Every community in Igbo land has masquerades.

In many communities, males are initiated into the masquerade group when they get to a certain age.

However, their activities these days are contrary to that, as they are now used to cause trouble, hunt, and attack real and imaginary enemies.

Their excesses had prompted some communities to put in place measures to checkmate them and in some cases, ban them outrightly.

Recently, in Nsukka, Enugu State, a notorious masquerade group known as Oriokpa, mercilessly flogged a nurse to the extent that she was pushed into a gutter. This drew wide outrage, prompting the leadership of Nsukka Town Federated Union, comprising monarchs, Presidents-General, elders, and youths to suspend them until further notice.

Before now, in some areas, masquerades appear during certain festivals. But today, many youths have turned masquerades into tools of operation and intimidation. Masquerades are also linked with banned drug usage and other evils, thus negating the entertainment aspect of the culture.

In Okija, Ihiala Council Area, Anambra State, youths now use masquerades to intimidate people. A widow in one of the villages narrated how some youths came to her house with a masquerade and took away domestic animals, including goats and fowls on the allegation that she returned late from the market. She said that the animals were taken to the village square killed, cooked, and consumed by the youths.  It was gathered that this is a common occurrence in many villages, which is why masquerading has become an everyday life in Okija.

A community leader, Benson Okonkwo said many stakeholders in the community are worried and have decided to put an end to the menacing activities of masquerades in the town with a plan to convoke a meeting of village heads to address the issue.

“I believe that once this decision is taken, the Igwe-in-Council will be informed and any village whose masquerades flout the decision faces the risk of being heavily sanctioned”, he said.

Any masquerade that assaults people should be arrested—Abia Community leader

A community leader in Isiala  Ngwa South Council Area, Abia State, Chief Gideon Onyendi, suggests that any masquerade who assaults people should be arrested and prosecuted by the police. He said masquerades are meant for celebration of certain festivals not for intimidation and harassment of people, saying it is wrong for masquerades to barricade roads, assault people, and extort money from road users.

“Masquerade is part of the tradition and culture of the people. It is wrong for a masquerade to harass, beat up, and extort money from road users. People can give money to masquerades, but it must not be through force or intimidation. Any masquerade that assaults people should be arrested and handed over to the police,” Onyendi said.

We agreed with our youths to reform  activities of masquerades — Imo monarchs

The traditional ruler of Umuneke-Nna, Ugiri, in Isiala Mbano Council Area, Imo State, Eze Jude Onyenagbaru, disclosed that the elders and youths of his community reached an agreement to reform the activities of masquerades and make them friendly. He said the reformation started in 2015 and continued to improve yearly.

“Initially we stopped it completely because of the violence and trouble associated with it. At a stage, we came to a round table and the youths agreed to be law-abiding.

“They agreed to do it in a friendly and non-violent manner. We allow them to continue for those who are interested. Our masquerades are paraded on two events, one during the New Yam Festival and the other during Christmas and New Year celebrations. The process of reform started in 2015,” the monarch explained.

We identify our masquerades with numbers; stop them from using cane, dangerous weapons— Enugu Community 

A community leader in Amufie  autonomous community, Igbo-Eze North council Area, Enugu State,  Elder Odoja Ossai, condemned the violent activities of masquerades who terrorize and harass people. Ossai said his community has put some measures, including registering them and giving them numbers as means of identifying them. ” We also stopped them from using canes or any weapon.

“We experienced such inhuman attitudes from the masquerades in our community, but after an extensive meeting with the elders, we devised measures to curb their excesses. If you outrightly ban masquerades, the spirit of masquerades will start haunting the oldest man spiritually, and it can lead to his early death.

“So, we resorted to issuing them with numbers as identity and also set up a committee to monitor their activities. If any masquerade defaults,  the task force will identify it with the number and sanction it.”

Masking still relevant though bastardized — Prof. Opata 

Emeritus Professor of English literature, Prof. Damian Opata said that masking is different from masquerade. He explained that a masquerade is like a pretender, an impersonator which many have used to confuse masking institutions such as Omaba or  Oriokpa  masking institutions.

Opata, however, maintained that the Omaba masking institution is still as relevant as anything. Specifically, he said that Oriokpa is more of an ethical agent, in terms of doing things right in a tradition in communities. In his town, Lejja in  Nsukka  Council Area,  Oriokpa  cannot beat a stranger or somebody who enters a yam farm, one carrying a child or a married woman.

“There are many things that Oriokpa  is prohibited from doing, but if you are a man and always hang with widows at night,  Oriokpa will mock you, sing your name about the community on how you waste your energy with widows. So it controls  behaviour. If you are a young girl and move around flirting, they will mock you; if you are lazy in attending to your duties, the Oriokpa will come and pursue you.

“These are the good things they did but we had a problem; two things happened to Oriokpa that made it dangerous, one is Christianity, two is modernity and you can also add cultism as a third factor that corrupted it.

“The other factor is that through the demonization of  Oriokpa  by Christian agents, the continuity in the tenets of Oriokpa was lost. In the early times, children were not allowed to even see Omaba going out let alone allow young boys to participate in the masking institution itself. But after some time, there was no continuity in the real practice of Oriokpa and in the resurgence, many of them did not know the rules and then with banditry and all manner of things, you now see  Oriokpa welding guns and knives; these are abominations in the masking system. But in terms of whether it is still useful, yes, it is still as relevant as ever if it is well done, but has been so demonized and bastardized.”

Only adults from 40 years old are involved in masquerade activities in Obosi — Oyimadu 

Mr. Christopher Oyimadu explained that in Obosi, Idemili North Council Area of Anambra State, the community has limited the age of people qualified to parade masquerades to 40 and above to checkmate youthful exuberance. He said masquerades are a lovely Igbo cultural activity that is being misused by some bad eggs in the communities to perpetrate evil acts.

“Here in Obosi Kingdom, the issue of masquerades being used as weapons by some elements of the community was checkmated when Igwe Iweka III made a pronouncement that only age grades from 40 years and above would be allowed to partake in activities of masquerades, this is to checkmate youthful exuberance and lawlessness. Since then, normalcy has returned, and the beautiful culture of masquerades has continued to flourish in Obosi Kingdom”.

Chief Wilfred Onyabuchi, an Onitsha-based businessman, agreed that masquerades are not only misused, and abused but misapplied and have almost been rendered worthless by the youths, particularly in metropolitan towns in Igbo land.

“It is an indisputable fact that the traditional ruler of Onitsha, His Royal Majesty, Igwe Alfred Nnaemeka Achebe has worked so hard to positively change the face, and the image and bring development, just as he has helped to empower the youths and even the elders in Onitsha.

“However, one sour area where enough has not been done, is the activities of youths who hide under the name of masquerade to commit violent and sometimes criminal activities against residents. The same thing also happens in neighbouring Nkpor, Obosi, and Ogidi.

“A situation where youths hide under the celebration of new yam festival and ofala of traditional rulers to unleash terror and all manner of violent activities against the people,  is unacceptable, reprehensible and therefore must be checked to avoid violent retaliation that may bring about break down of law and order.

Source: Vanguardnews

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