Okumkpa (Theatre Mask)


By: Adenike Cosgrove Tagged:


Found in Southeastern Igboland, primarily in Afikpo towns, ibibio (meaning 'beautiful woman') masks are worn by adult men of the Mmwo (or Mma) secret society. Ibibio masks are danced annually by masqueraded men during Okumkpa ceremonies to celebrate the end of the dry season and to satirise the lives of villagers. Masqueraders wear ibibio masks to represent adult women.

They are also used during Njenji ceremonies which usher in the start of the annual festival season in Igboland. The ceremony is also an opportunity for young initiates to demonstrate their ability to convince other villages to partake in festivities; it is a sign of their maturity and negotiation skills. When used in Njenji festivals, boys and young men usually don the coloured variety of ibibio masks.

Distinguishing Features

  • Made of light wood (okwe)
  • Black coiffure on top of head
    • Hairstyle formed of rounded buns
    • White lines painted on hair parts
    • Some masks have twisted strands of hair coming down in front of ears
  • Broad and round face head
  • Face painted a single colour
    • White, pink, orange, red or violet are common
  • Black eyebrows
  • Oval eyes
    • Eyes outlined black
  • Projected ears (only Afikpo mask to have ears)
    • Painted in camwood or orange
  • Large nose
    • Nostrils painted black
  • No tear marks on cheeks

Share this