Ibibio Masquerade Theatre

24 Aug 2022

Ibibio theatre is a kind of traditional African theatre which Yemi Ogunbiyi defines as: “an indigenous cultural institution, a form of art nurtured on the African soil over the centuries and which has, therefore, developed distinctive features and whose techniques are sometimes totally different from the borrowed form now practiced by many of our contemporary artists” The most visible and the most ubiquitous forms of Ibibio traditional theatre are embodied in its robust masquerade tradition. A profuse body of researches by renown scholars, anthropologists and dramatists already exists in Ibibio masquerade theatre and drama. Some of them include G. I. Jones, John Messenger, Ruth Finnegan, Amoury Tailbot; Yemi Ogunbiyi, Inih Ebong, Uko Akpaide, Ntienyong Udo Akpan, etc. According to tentative categories devised by Inih Ebong, Ibibio masquerades integrate:
(i) animated wooden puppets that use gesture and speech known as Utuere Ekpe (Spider play) and or Ekpo
Akpara, and Okokot Uba. Their performance space known as 'akpara' (meaning enclosure) is a collapsible, mobile, rectangular fence masked with raffia, palm fronds, and heavy, colourful clothes.
(ii) a massive, pyramidal, wooden enclosure covered with thick, bright clothes, raffia, and palm fronds known as Akata. It has a carved wooden mask usually placed at the peak of the triangle. It also has a guttural
speech. Its diminutive version is known as Ekpri (meaning small or junior) Akata.
(iii) life-size masquerades without face but, rather, draped with dry plantain, raffia or fresh palm fronds up to their knees or (as the case may be) ankles. They are known as Uye, Adiaha Anwa, Inuen or Idem Udo
(as the case may be).
(iv) body and facial decoration using chalks and paints of various colours to accentuate and excite fear. It is
known as Mbre Okoko (or Okoko performance).
(v) facial mask (wooden, paper or cloth) carved or moulded to tell a story, delineate gender, status, and temperament of the masquerade. Its paraphernalia include raffia, ragged folk clothing, stilts, a wooden phallus, feather, bells and knives, black chalk or charcoal and palm frond as in Ekpo Nyoho, Okpo Ekoon (male) Eka Ekoon (female) masquerades, Idip Akpan Adiama, Ntok Odiodio), Ekpo Ntok, Obio Okpo, and Udo Edem Eko etc.
(vi) carved headpiece decorated with clothes, mirrors, female hairdo, or crocodile or tortoise or any other cosmological motif. It represents Ibibio/Annang marine 'force vitale'.
(vii) facial and body adornments with a headpiece especially in female and maidenhood cult performance such as Abang, Ebre, Asian Uboikpa and Nyok. The headpiece is usually the prerogative of the pivotal dancer.
(viii) Carved facial mask with high, vertical, headpiece and everyday cloths known as Ibom.
(Ix) Woven or embroidered raffia hood reaching from head to toe. It is used in Ekpe and Obon performances
Each of these multiform represents a means of expressing the moral, religious, social, psychological and
philosophical conditioning of the Ibibio mind and conscience. An experiencing of them gives a vivid portraiture of the Ibibio theatre culture.

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