Beauty and the Beast: Two Igbo Masquerades
Beauty and the Beast: Comparing Two Igbo Masquerades
By Herbert M. Cole
This video compares two quite different, separate masquerades in a single Igbo community: Ekeleke, a dance of several stilt maskers, along with a masked leopard and diviner, contrasting with Okoroshi, a more complex and lengthy masquerade featuring a few pretty white-faced maidens and a much larger contingent of dark masculine masks. Ekeleke, played twice daily over five days week, shows several types of virtuoso stilt dancing and a brief play in which the lead stilt masker, with the diviner’s help, subdues the leopard. Okoroshi plays night and day for six weeks, with as many as a hundred maskers, most of them the dark males, some powerful, with twisted and ugly faces. Ekeleke is primarily entertainment, whereas Okoroshi, at least a few decades ago, was a serious display of Igbo values under spiritual sanctions, with some maskers exercising social control by pressuring errant behavior. Beauty vs. Beast notions play out twice: first, in the contrast between the light, largely secular Ekeleke entertainment vs the stronger and deeper Okoroshi, with it emphasis on neutral or negative social values, and second, within Okoroshi, the white fine-featured female masks (representing the order and safety of the village) vs. the larger number of dark, often misshapen masks (standing for mystery, night, darkness, and less benign human values). All masks are danced by males only.