The masquerade festival was originally a form of ancestor worship in which communities would honour their ancestors through elaborate rituals and performances. The festival may also have originated to appease the gods and seek their protection and blessings. For the Yourbas, they have 5 popular masquerades. In this article, we will focus on them.
Before we proceed, it is worth knowing that masquerade traditions have a varied range of purposes that span from performing elements of epic drama derived from community cosmology and legend, ushering in new months and seasons, honoring totems and ancestral spirits, enactments of parables or myths, and so on.
The 5 popular masquerades in the Yourbaland include:
- Atipako masquerade
- Eyo masquerade
- Alpansanpa masquerade
- Agemo masquerade
- Egungun masquerade
1. Atipako masquerade
Atipako is known as a ‘load-carrying’ masquerade that is usually accompanied by women.
Atipako masquerade always carries stones, mortar and pestle on his head. This portrays its significance for blessing the masses and the land.
2. Eyo masquerade
The Eyo Festival, otherwise known as the Adamu Orisha Play, is a Yoruba festival unique to Lagos, Nigeria. In modern times, it is presented by the people of Lagos as a tourist event and due to its history, it is traditionally performed on Lagos Island.
In Yoruba culture, the Eyo masquerade is believed to represent the spirits of the dead, and its appearance is seen as a sign of respect for the ancestors.
3. Alpansanpa masquerade
The Alapansanpa is one of the highly revered and dreaded masquerades in the city of Ibadan. Alapansanpa is a masquerade which belongs to the Ogundeji clan of Ibadan Land in Oyo state, Southwest of Nigeria.
Alapansanpa masquerade was common in the past to fight battles in Ibadan and is said to come out only once in a year.
4. Agemo masquerade
Agemo is an unforeseen phenomenon, a supreme deity and high god (orisa) among the Ijebu people of Yoruba land.
It is a festival masked or masquerade festival traditionally held in many Yoruba cities but more popularly linked with the Ijebu people of Ogun State. Annually, Agemo festival usually takes place between July and August every year in Ijebu Ode.
5. Egungun masquerade
A famous Yoruba historian, posited that Egungun, the African cultic masquerade in Nigeria, originated from the Nupe country.
Masquerades for the ancestors are known as ‘egungun’ (power concealed). The body of dancer is completely covered by layer upon layer of cloth. On occasion one can tell the age of a masquerade by examination of the clothes used, since it is not unusual for new cloths to be added each year.