Okumkpa (Theatre Mask)

Mma Ji

By: Adenike Cosgrove Tagged:


Found in Southeastern Igboland, primarily in Afikpo towns, mma ji (meaning 'knife yam' - also called mma ubi meaning 'knife farm' or ikwum) masks are used in a number of different plays and festivals:

  • They are worn by older boys of the Mmwo (or Mma) secret society during Okumkpa ceremonies to celebrate the end of the dry season and to satirise the lives of villagers.
  • Used in Ikwum secret society dances, mma ji masks are danced to thanks ancestors for the strength given to society men to cultivate farms (ubi).
  • Finally, sources point to mma ji masks also being used during Njenji ceremonies which usher in the start of the annual festival season in Igboland.

Distinguishing Features

  • Made from hard wood (mba)
  • Height = 13 - 22 inches based on height of 'knife' projection
  • Small face
    • Convex, round oval face
    • Face decorated with curved triangles with base of lines resting on eyes
  • Curving, upright crest projects from forehead
    • Represents yam cutting knife (mma ji)
    • Curves backwards
    • Tapers to point
    • Painted in white, red, black and/or yellow
    • Triangular sometimes used to decorate projection
    • Front edge of projection sometimes decorated with dots or incised lines
  • Peg-like knobs project from face
    • Three or four cylindrical pegs
    • Flat ends
    • In line with knife projection on forehead
    • Many have dots of contrasting colours at flat end of each peg
    • Second peg (in four pegged variety) or middle peg (in three pegged variety) has black line or incision on both sides from inner corner of each eye
    • In four pegged variety, second peg sometimes reduces to a small pointed projection from face
  • Oval/slit holes carved out to form eyes
    • Usually rimmed in black paint
    • Eyes meet second peg (in four pegged variety) or middle peg (in three pegged variety)
  • Mouth and ears missing

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