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A HISTORICAL SURVEY OF THE EBIRA CHAO MASKING AND MASQUERADE TRADITIONS.

 Format: MS-WORD   Chapters: 1-5

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 Nov 10, 2022 |  05:16 pm |  69


A HISTORICAL SURVEY OF THE EBIRA CHAO MASKING AND MASQUERADE TRADITIONS.


Introduction


Culture, the total way of life of a people, is either material or non-material. It is most times, seen as a means of identifying people. The culture of a people can manifest in the form of material culture, for instance, festival, clothing, architecture, arts and food, while the non- material culture includes the belief, language and philosophy of the people. Nigeria as a nation is made up of people, societies and civilization of different and unique cultures and traditions. 


Through some of their cultural practices, some societal needs are met. Hence, Bayo (2010) asserts that, some of the traditional Nigerian arts, in three dimensional form, are utilized in different areas, like; social, sacred and secular purposes. For instance, masks, and  utilitarian  objects  which  may  be  anthropomorphic  representations  of  gods,  are produced and used to meet socio-cultural needs of communities, amongst other purposes.


The survival of cultural practices over some centuries, have become traditions that were sustained by the people, by handing down statements, beliefs, rules, customs or the likes, by words of mouth and practice from generation to generation. Examples of such traditions is the masking and masquerade traditions that are practised in most villages and towns in Africa for some specific purposes, which vary from one society to another.


In traditional African society, masking is the act of using a mask to cover or disguise the face. In addition to that, Lomel (1970) affirms that, masquerade is more than mere disguise, for it gives expression to the bond between a group of people and their ancestors, and that, it is an embodiment of a tradition and a guarantee of the continuity of an order hallowed by tradition.

 

In some communities in Africa, masks are worn by individuals that are chosen by the ancestors through divination before there can be spiritual manifestation of the ancestral powers to meet societal needs. To corroborate this statement, Willett (1971) discloses that, “chiwara mask with graceful curves of a hyena, produced by the Bambara of Mali was used for land fertility and to boost agricultural produce. 


Such mask with basket helmet was usually worn by the youth during agrarian festival”. In line with Willett (1971), Bayo (2010) asserts that, “kponiugo mask of the Senufo which is characterized with mouth like that of a warthog and the horn of a honey comb, is used to prevent soul stealers from operating in the community”. In other words, it serves as a guardian spirit. The author further states that, Dea mask attached to grasses is of the Baga, and was used to protect the soul of the dead. 


Among the Yoruba, “the gelede masquerade pays tribute to the special powers of women known as “the mothers” who are believed to possess a spiritual life force ase, which is equal to that of the deity orisa” (Drewal, 1974).  Ase itself, is a neutral force that is either negative nor positive. On this note, the mothers can use their special powers for both negative and positive purposes.  The negative purpose of the mothers is expressed with the term aje, meaning witch.


The destructive mothers are most often thought to be involved in matters of infertility, impotency and the death of children because they are constantly angry, easily irritated and jealous of those who are too happy. Bayo (2010) further narrates that “the mothers, in their positive  aspect, are  regarded  as  calm,  creative  and  protective  progenitors”.  Similarly, among the Igbo, Aniakor (1982) describes the Igbo Ijele masquerade as an “elephant, the beautiful and  expensive  masquerade”,  the  biggest masquerade  in  Igbo  land, and as a leading spirit (mwuo). 


The fact is that, the size of Ijele masquerade is outstanding when compared with other available masquerades throughout Igbo land. This highly placed Ijele masquerade comes out for display during ofala festival which takes place once in every seven years. It may be noted that, the Ijele masquerade is one of the masquerades with a large mask, therefore, constituting the key element in its masquerading tradition.


Background of the Study


The Ebira are noted for their rich cultures and traditions in Nigeria and they occupy a land mass of about 150km around the confluence of the rivers Niger and Benue, in the Federal Republic  of  Nigeria.  According  to  Ozigi  (2004),  “historically,  Ebira  speaking  people belong to the Kwararafa or Apa group of people, of the middle belt region in Nigeria”.


They are specifically found in Kogi, Nassarawa and Edo states, and in the Federal Capital Territory (Saliu, 2010).  Muhammad (2005) and Saliu (2010) assert that, there are “Ebira Nya in Koton Karfi in Kogi State, Toto and Umaisha in Nassarawa State as well as Abaji in Federal Capital Territory of Nigeria, Ebira Tao in Okene, Kogi State and Ebira Chao in Igarra (Etuno), Edo State”. 


The communities referred to as the Ebira, are bounded together as one, because of their cultural affinity and dialectical relationship. Each of these groups, speaks similar dialect of the language, though, they occupy different locations as a result of states creation and boundary adjustments, in the Nigerian political map. One other reason about their dispersed settlements is their migration activities.


The Ebira settlements are scattered over the numerous hills and mountains, which dominate the landscape of the region, and most of the earliest village settlements were located on the hill-tops,  which  are  in  some  cases,  rocky  and  serve  as  a  defense  against  enemies (Muhammad, 2005) and (Salami, 2011). They are hardworking farmers who craved for more fertile lands for their farming operations. 



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