Igboland holds many festivities and cultural performances, most notably the masquerades and the new Yam festivals.
Masquerades (Mmanwu) are held in accordance with the community native calendars during festivals, annual festivities, burial rites and other social gatherings. The masquerades are geared in colourful robes and masks made of wood or fabric. Some masks appear only at one festival, but the majority appears at many or all.
Masquerades are associated with spiritual elements, as according to Igbo belief, they represent images of deities or sometimes even dead relatives. The identity of the masquerade is a well-kept secret and performed exclusively by men.
In the past, masquerades were regarded as the means for maintaining peace and order and were primarily used as law enforcement agents. The whole village would come out for the ceremony of the colourful masquerades. While entertaining through dances and exhibiting extra-human feats, the masquerades would walk up to certain individuals and loudly expose any bad habits, crimes or misbehaviour of that person. As people would always take corrections from these exposures, the masquerades were effective in keeping up with traditional norms and values in the communities.
With colonisation in the 20th century, masquerades became more relevant as an institution for cultural entertainment. Nowadays, they are used more for tourist attractions when they come out in colourful robes accompanied by traditional dancers and music. The masks are determined by local tradition and beliefs. Best-known are those that represent the spirit of deceased maidens and their mothers symbolising beauty and peacefulness. This masquerade may be accompanied by the elephant spirit, representing ugliness and aggression, which frightens the male spectators away from her beauty. Other characters include the European (Mbeke), a pair of boy and girl (Mba), the boy dressed up as a girl satirising his counterpart, and animals (crocodile, snake etc.) representing various local deities.
There is an annual masquerade festival in November organised by Enugu State and involves masquerade groups from various parts of the state.
The other festival with high social significance carried out by most communities in Igboland is the new Yam (Iri Ji) festival, which marks the beginning of the harvest seasons for new yam. The festival takes place usually between August and October, though the time varies from one community to the other. The New Yam festival raises the occasion for celebration while offering special prayers to God for a good harvest. It is marked with colourful display of cultural dances and rites, including roasting and toasting of new yams. Obviously, time for feasting and merry-making.
*Culled from www.igboguide.org