By:  Nkiru F. Okoh, Communications & Cultural Analyst, Uhuri Cultural Centre

Though I have always been scared by the sight of masquerades, nevertheless, I have always enjoyed their weird performances, as they gyrated round the arena with their followers, thrilling the spectators. The Ekpo masquerade cultural festival held recently at Afor-Umunachi in Imo State was not an exception.

I had looked forward to this memorable date with great expectations and curiosity due to the fascinating stories I heard about it.

On that particular date, the masquerades had emerged from a secluded spot, artfully screened with fresh palm fronds, which height measured over 15 feet. This improvised cubicle was to shield what was happening inside the shrine from public view.

Proceeding the appearance of these terrifying masquerades, was the ritualistic release of a volley of cannon shots, which apparently invoked them from the spirit world, having been aroused by the deafening sound.

This cultural jamboree started in earnest at about 5.30pm in the evening, though the enthusiastic crowd had gathered much earlier before this time. The much-awaited Ekpo masquerades eventually came out in various shapes and sizes, but they had one thing in common: They all looked very dark, and scary to behold. An obviously frightened spectator had remarked that these ancestral spirits otherwise known as masquerades, looked very much like irrepressible ghosts defiantly encroaching into human habitat from distant graveyards, with ulterior motives.

It was however a fun galore, as this cultural extravaganza which is celebrated annually, was quite awesome. The frenzied followers of the Ekpo masquerades added colour to the show, as they closely followed the masquerades while they gyrated.

At about 8pm in the evening, the festival had not ended, as the grand master masquerade otherwise known as ‘Isi-Ekpo’ said to be usually out in the dark was yet to come out. But the crowd had evidently started receding drastically. Perhaps, its coming out is not meant for public view or entertainment as the other masquerades but is for a nocturnal fraternity with ‘his’ offspring ‘whose’ performance during the day, ‘he’ found quite impressive and commendable.

This Umunachi Obowo Ekpo Masquerade Cultural Festival, is a delight to witness.