Okumkpa (Theatre Mask)


By: Adenike Cosgrove Tagged:


Found in Southeastern Igboland, primarily in the town Afikpo, acali masks are one of the first masks worn by young men of the Mmwo (or Mma) secret society. Acali masks are danced annually during Okumkpa ceremonies to celebrate the end of the dry season and are danced to satirise the lives of villagers.

According to Simon Ottenberg, "such masks are generally associated with a deity of the secret society called egbele, but the spirit of the deity is not perceived as residing in the mask but as remaining in the sacred bush--the mma is viewed as a manifestation of it... the acali mask is generally worn by the youngest players in Okumkpa performances and that it is one of the least common Afikpo masks."2

Distinguishing Features

  • Very small; height = 9 inches; width = 4 - 5 inches
  • Flat projection from top of head; usually painted multiple colours
  • Oval face
    • Face slightly concave from underneath of brow to chin
    • Face painted white
  • Ears are absent
  • Top of forehead painted black
  • Slightly curved, thin eyebrows
  • Rectangular or square cut-out eyes
  • Straight, narrow nose
    • Black painted on ridge of nose
  • Rounded nostrils
  • Diagonal lines on cheeks (tear marks from eyes down the cheeks)
  • When present, mouth is small, oval or triangular
  • Parallel lines along jaw
    • Beard design going downward from mouth area - represented by vertical coloured lines and incising
  • Painted white, black, red and/or yellow
    • Sides of mask painted black framing the white face
  • Rear of mask edged by thick fibre basketry coils

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