Okumkpa (Theatre Mask)


By: Adenike Cosgrove Tagged:


Found in Southeastern Igboland, primarily in the towns Afikpo, Ada, Edda and Amaseri, igri (also called okonkpo or egede) masks are among the rarest of masks worn by older male members of the Mmwo (or Mma) secret society. Igri masks are danced annually by singers and musicians during Okumkpa ceremonies to celebrate the end of the dry season and to satirise the lives of villagers.

They are also used during Njenji ceremonies which usher in the start of the annual festival season in Igboland. The ceremony is an opportunity for young initiates to demonstrate their ability to convince other villages to partake in festivities; its a sign of their maturity and negotiation skills.

Distinguishing Features

  • Height = 15 - 20 inches
  • Width = 4 - 5 inches
  • Elongated flat form
  • Geometric, stylised features
  • Raffia attached to top of head
    • Several inches high
    • Same width as forehead
    • Horizontal bundles of raffia attached on top of each other with circled string
    • Loose raffia attached to sides
  • Forehead raised out beyond facial plane
    • Rectangular shape to forehead
  • Oval long face
    • Sometimes slightly concave
  • Bulging brow
  • Pierced eyes
    • Usually square or rectangular
  • Diagonal tear marks
  • Thin nose
  • Black line from under nose to chin
  • No mouth present
  • Square, rounded or pointed edge to chin
  • White, black, red, yellow colours

Regional variations (Afikpo):

  • Shorter length = 15 - 16 inches
  • White the dominant colour (painted on face and forehead)
  • Face usually very flat
  • Black line on ridge of nose (extending line from top of nose to chin)
  • Black triangle painted on forehead projecting from top of nose

Regional variations (Edda):

  • Longer length = 18 - 20 inches
  • Longer forehead (face typically same length as Afikpo styles)
  • Darker colours used (areas of black and camwood)
  • Face more concave than Afikpo styles
  • Face generally curls outwards at chin
  • Larger nose
  • No black line on nose ridge
  • Two rectangles or long triangles painted on forehead

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