Okumkpa (Theatre Mask)

Nnade Okumkpa

By: Adenike Cosgrove Tagged:


Found in Southeastern Igboland, primarily in Afikpo towns, nnade okumkpa (meaning 'father of Okumkpa') masks are worn by senior and junior leaders of Okumkpa ceremonies. Nnade okumpa masks are danced annually by during Okumkpa ceremonies to celebrate the end of the dry season and to satirise the lives of villagers.

Believed to hold great supernatural power (the spirit of the Mma secret society resides within the mask), nnade okukpa masks are kept in the village rest house when not in use and are only ever brought out during Okumkpa plays. Sacrifices of eggs are made to the mask which is why a number of older nnade okumkpa masks are patinated with eggshells.

There are two main sub-types of nnade okumkpa mask:

  • Longer form worn by 'senior leader'
  • Shorter form worn by 'junior leader'

"The two players dance together forming a bound pair. The two leaders, okumkpa odudo, wear a floppy, wide-brimmed mat hat and are easily identifiable amongst the players by their special dress and actions. They do not sit down and do not usually dance about. The two men are responsible for indicating the end of each stage, for starting a new one, and for directing the music, singing, and dancing. They must keep the players seated in orderly fashion."1

Distinguishing Features

Sub-type variations (Senior Nnade Okumkpa):

  • Height = 12 inches
  • Black rounded ridge across top of forehead
  • Two colours to forehead differentiated by central line of face
  • Sides of face slightly convex
  • Heavy, rounded, protruding black brow ridge
  • Circular eyes
  • Tear marks from eyes
  • >>>Incisions sometimes painted black, white and/or red
  • Rounded black nose (no nostrils)
  • Small round hole for mouth
  • Chin projects slightly outward

Sub-type variations (Junior Nnade Okumkpa):

  • Height = 9 inches
  • Slightly narrower than senior mask
  • Thickened central line at forehead
    • Forms nose below
  • Large bulging eyelids
  • Small round hole for mouth just under nose
  • Pointed chin pointed outward

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