RESEARCH ON AFRICAN MASK
Masking is an
artistic and social
activity of men who are privileged to be members of the cult. They use
masks to produce mask-figures often called masquerades that perform
dance and skits. The exclusivity of masking to men created a huge
problem to my
research. Women are not allowed to join the mask cults or even come close or touch
masquerades in many of the case studies. Moreover, the affairs of the
supposed to be secret. How could a woman even think of trying to study
cult of men especially one shrouded in mystery and sacredness?
stubbornness. Call it crazy. Or maybe scholarly curiosity. You'll
decide on what to label me with when you hear some anecdotes that I
narrate later. For now, just know that this is my research area.
As a traditional
expression, masking raises the issue of gender not just for me as a
but more importantly in the maintenance of patriarchy. The
and engineering of masculinity and femininity are implicated in the
production and communication of ideas through mask performances.
contributes to how men and women view gender, masculinity, and
discovered that Agbogho-mmonwu (maiden mask) is implicated in
ways that are comparable though not analogous to the role of Barbie
in global popular culture.
To know more about this
statement, see “Global encounters: 'Barbie' in Nigerian Agbogho-mmuo mask
(Journal of African Cultural Studies,
Vol. 19, No. 1. (June 2007), pp.
My research on
centers on the Ikeji festival of Aro people. Aro is a sub-Igbo group in southeastern Nigeria. all Aro clans, towns, villages, wards and groups trace their origin to
Arochukwu, a pre-colonial kingdom in Abia State, Nigeria. I carried out research in Arochukwu in Abia State, Ajalli in Anambra
State, Aro-Amokwe in Enugu State,
Arondizogu in Imo State, Aro-Igrita and Aro-Isiokpo in Rivers State (Nigeria).
From these locations, the research extended to other Igbo areas, to Nigeria, Africa
and African Diaspora. I will share a few mask research anecdotes so
can have a feel of the danger, fun, and reward of the experience.
My parents, because of their career as teachers,
supportive of my research and tried to facilitate it in many ways.
there are family members who have shown concern for my
I naghi anu
nti!” One of my loving aunts said this to me implying
that I “do not
hear,” meaning a kind of headiness or stubbornness. She called me
a child (nwata)
to emphasize my lack of understanding. Her language especially body
was meant to annoy/shock me to think critically about my pursuit.
concern was that since women were excluded from masking, the masquerade
would get angry at a woman nosing around their secret preserve.
“Wo ga efe ghi aju – o!”
This suggested that they could use mysticism to harm me.
In 1983, I was
Ndiakeme square of Arondizogu (Imo State)
with my hostess. We wanted to participate in the Ikeji festivities.
us, a masquerade was hiding behind a shrub and just sprang on us. I
took to my
heels. My hostess felt the tip of his whip. I was flustered. Luckily, I
Professor Nwanna of the University of Nigeria.
He too came
to enjoy the Ikeji festival performance. I complained to him and
that from what I had gathered in that community, a masquerade was not
strike a non-indigene of the place. He laughed and told me that the
not regard me as a non-indigene because I had learnt a lot about their
community in the two weeks that I had been interviewing people and that
identity as an Aro woman was well known. Moreover, my hostess was a
member and her husband what an adept in the masking cult..
I did not stop. I
Mazi Nnanna Obioha, the village elder of my hostess’ neighborhood. He
took it easy,
sat me down, offered me kola nut and fanta-orange. He asked me how far
gone with my research and praised me for doing such a work. He was
that elders like him die with their wisdom and traditional knowledge,
pleased that someone was recording them. He asked how else he could
arranging more interviews for me. Finally he addressed my immediate
“Umurima ohu. Wo na
egwusara gi egwu. Wo vuru gi na anya. To-o mmeji.”
(Those children. They were playing with you. They
you. Cool down”).
Woman! Go back!
I turned up very
early in the
morning to observe the women’s ritual at the shrine of Uke.
I sat with my
crew consisting of a photographer, video person, recorder, and two
assistants from the village. I sensed anger in some of the young men
round to chat with us. One of them addressed me directly. He told me
had a diploma from my university and that was why he had some respect
but he nonetheless warned me not to pursue the research. “Woman!
Go back where
you came from.” The Assistants told me to ignore him. We were
waiting for the
women to turn up when our driver alerted us to danger. We were already
out of the village when we saw the group of young men marching from the
road. They made threatening gestures and some of them threw their clubs
nothing touched our car.
I took this matter to the judge in Abakiliki, Hon Justice Eze Ozobu. He
said that I
was lucky to have escaped. I did not pursuer the matter with litigation
anything like that – just lost all the money and effort. The
helped me to redirect my research to other communities in 1990.
1985, I presented my research proposal at the University of Nigeria,
Nsukka. A lecturer expressed his shock that my supervisors, Professor
and Dr. Amankulor, did not advise me to identify a research area that
to a woman. He said that women did not have “anything to do with
which was the main festival of my study. He advised that I should study
songs or satires. I was shocked by his reaction and attitude to my
departmental Chair, Juliet Okonkwo, and other committee members
him. The experience,however, made me more determined to succeed.
while I was at Cornell
University, I met
who was at Colgate. She had visited Anambra State in the Igbo area of
see mask performances. She had heard that women were excluded so she
surprised to see women turn up for the performance and performing a
number of public roles in the performance. Sharing mask
with another woman researching men’s masquerade cults was a treat
for me, because
it was the first time that I had the opportunity.
Publications on Women,
Masking & Theater
(2010) “Womanhood in Igbo Cosmology: Intersections
in Chinua Achebe’s Thing’s Fall Apart.” In Achebe’s
Women: Imagism and Power Ed. Helen Chukwuma Accepted
for Publication (Trenton: Africa World Press).
Power: Corner Stone or Central Subject in Igbo Mask
Performance.” Emergent Themes and Methods in African Studies:
Honor of Adiele Eberechukwu Afigbo Ed., Falola, T and Adam Paddock.
Africa World Press): 431-446.
“Global encounters: Barbie in Nigerian Agbogho-mmuo mask context.” Journal of African Cultural Studies.
Vol. 19, No. 1. 37-54.
“Terrible Beauty of Masks From Around the
World.” MASKS from Around the
World by Garth Darl. Vancouver:
Power: Corner Stone or Central Subject in Igbo Mask Performance.”
publication in a book, A Survey of Igbo
Nation edited by G. E. K. Ofomata (University of Nigeria,
“Gender Politics in West African Mask Performance.” Writing African Women: Gender, Popular Culture and Literature
in West Africa. Ed. Newell,
Zed Books), pp. 157‑169.
“The Dramatization of Heroism in Igbo Festivals.” UNISWA Research Journal (Univ. of Swaziland),
"From the Heart of Masculinity: Ogbodo Uke Women's Masking." Research in African Literatures,
4, pp. 7‑17.
"Power and Empowerment in African Mask Performance." Africa
"The Rejected Corner Stone: Women
In Igbo Mask Theater." Africana
Studies and Research Center Newsletter (Cornell University),
Vol. 4, No. 1, pp. 19‑23, and 27‑31.
“Behind the Inscrutable Wonder: The Dramaturgy of the Mask
Traditional African Society.”
Vol. 22, No. 4. pp. 39-52.
(1990) “: The
the Playwright, and the producer on the Nigerian Theater Scene.” World Literature Today Winter (1990):24-29.
J. N. and Okafor, Chinyere G. (1988) "Continuity and Change in
Nigerian Theatre among the Igbo in the Era of Colonial Politics." Ufahamu (University
of California, LA),
Vol. 26, No. 3, pp. 35‑50.
"Aro Diaspora: A Cultural and Historical Overview." Arochukwu
History and Culture. Ed.
Ijoma, J. O. (Enugu: Fourth Dimension), pp. 113‑137.
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