The Igbo Dance Masquerade Genre: Ogba Mgbada, Ogbagu, Ojionu etc Are Reservoirs of Ancient Music & Dance Styles


Masquerades are common among the hundreds of ethnocultural groups that make up Southern and Middle Belt Regions of Nigeria. Masquerades are an ancient cultural practice that has survived the influences of modernity and conversion for alien religions. In authentic African cultural belief system, the living and dead share a commonality of interest in society. The living depict the dead ancestors by wearing masks and other paraphernalia which help to fully manifest which genre the masquerade belongs to. This YouTube video shows one of the popular dance masquerades of the Igbo ethnic nationality in Southeast Nigeria. Among the Igbo, the dancing masquerade genre includes Ojionu, Ogba-mgbada and Ogbagu, especially in the Igbo heartland. In recent times, other less-known dance masquerades have appeared on the scene, but they are not yet as popular and ubiquitous as the three types already mentioned.

Masquerades are organized in groups or societies which are usually named after the genre to which they belong as well the specific societal function in which they are specialized. Some deal with occultism while others specialize in security and law & order. In recent times, masquerade societies can also specialize in comical and popular entertainment. The genre that conjures the imagery of terror usually specialize in law-and-order matters or belong to the mystical and cult groups or societies. For many among the uninitiated, all masquerades are the same – they are often associated with bad and dangerous things, particularly since the emergence of Christian Pentecostal evangelism in Igbo heartland. This is certainly so for the masquerade genres that belong to occultist and secret societies. Dance masquerades are regarded as friendly and thus unlikely to harm whoever they encounter during routine appearances.

Dance masquerades are, therefore, popular features in celebratory occasions and public events where the goal is entertainment and excitement. Dance masquerades can perform singly or in group and are often accompanied by a musical troupe equipped with metal and wooden gongs, drums and a flutist. Masquerade dance routine can be patterned after the drum or gong rhythm or may follow the subtle prompts of the flutist. Some routines may involve combination of all the lead instruments in the musical troupe.

Major Igbo festivals, such as the Iri-ji (New Yam), are associated with appearance of a variety of masquerades. They are invited to entertain the crowds; the adult population usually prefer the dance masquerades while the young ones are uncontrollably excited by the mere sight of occultist genres which are more disposed to teasing children and women with faked chases meant to send them fleeing for safety in response to scare gesture from these masquerades.

In sum, encounter with the typical Igbo masquerade is never a boring experience. As shown in this YouTube video, the dance masquerade has the acrobatics and nimble maneuvers that thrill. The more austere variety featuring the solemn and occultist genres are irresistible to youths, from toddler age to early adulthood, who are magnetically attracted to these mystical figures. Fun-seeking kids would, sometimes, tease masquerades only to turn and flee from them in an instant.

In brief, masquerades are home-made fun for all in context of the authentic Igbo cultural practice. Enjoy this Ogba Mgbada masquerade group performing live during a public event.