Masquerades are important features of various traditions among Yoruba ethnic groups. A large number of traditions showcase specific masquerades or mascots as the case may be, in festivals and carnivals. It’s like our own unique way of celebrating Halloween, howbeit, in a more traditional and special way. Masquerades perform traditional dance routines and display a huge part of the Yoruba cultural heritage. Here are some of the various masquerades in South-Western Nigeria;
The “Eyo” which originates from Lagos is a special kind of masquerade that only shows its dancing prowess during the Eyo Festival. The “Eyo” are dressed in white apparels with a hat and hold a traditional iconic staff known as “Opambata”, they represent the spirits of the dead, and are referred to in Yoruba as “agogoro Eyo” literally known as “tall Eyo”. Legend says the “Eyo” came as a result of the need to protect a deity from the activities of hooligans who wanted to destroy or steal it.
Celebrated among the Ijebu people, the Agemo Festival is a week-long event marked with great festivities, traditional routines and an important feature which is the presence of the “Agemo” masquerades. The “Agemo” group file out one after the other to showcase their skills and perform magical tricks while the drummers beat their drums and songs are rendered to entertain people.
The ancient city of Ibadan is home to one of the most revered masquerades in Yoruba land, the “Oloolu”. It usually carries a pot full of sacrifice known in Yoruba as “ebo”, round some designated areas in the city to ward off misfortunes and cleanse the land to usher in peace and prosperity.
The people from Ondo State believe that the “Egungun” masquerades are the spirits of dead individuals and ancestors that have the power to return at least once in a year to reunite with the living. They present traditional dance steps in the Egungun festival which takes place in different towns in Ondo State. There is also a masquerade fiesta that entertains lots of people.
This masquerade is very popular in Okemesi, Ekiti State, and it’s usually present in the Egungun festival of the Okemesi people. It is generally believed by people of Okemesi to have saved and protected them during the Yoruba inter-ethnic wars especially during the “Ekiti Paraapo” (an alliance with the Ijesha people) war.
Obadimeji masquerade is worshiped by the Opayinka, Opadiran and Ojesanmi family in Ibadan. Legend says that any member of the family that abandons the family tradition of worshiping the masquerade will be in trouble for the rest of his life. Its costume is usually sown with materials like red lace, damask, and other types of unique materials except white.
The Alapansanpa masquerade was used in the past to fight and win many wars in and outside Ibadan. He is a renowned masquerade that is known for his visits to the Olubadan’s palace, once in a year, June to be precise. It is said that if he doesn’t go to the Olubadan’s Palace, there will not be peace and prosperity in the land and that means the Olubadan is a bad person.
This is a load carrying masquerade mostly followed by women. A family elder known as “Alaagba” presides over its ancestral rites. Atipako masquerade always carries on his head; stones, mortar and pestle which portrays it’s significance for blessing the masses and the land. It comes out annually in June and spiritually cleanses the community.
Masquerades play a very important part of the Culture of the Yoruba people and are vital features of important traditions, displaying a huge measure of the cultural heritage of the Yoruba people.