Okumkpa (Theatre Mask)

Opa Nwa

By: Adenike Cosgrove Tagged:


Found in Southeastern Igboland, primarily in the town Afikpo, opa nwa (also called agbogho okumkpa or agbogho mma; meaning 'carrying child' or 'hold child'; often referred to as 'Queen mask') masks are worn by a single older boy and young man of the Mmwo (or Mma) secret society during annually Okumkpa ceremonies to celebrate the end of the dry season. They are danced to satirise the lives of villagers - some celebrations can last up to four hours. Considered a female mask, opa nwa dancers wear female clothing to act out skits about women.

Opa nwa masks are also used during Njenji festivals, performed by young boys and adults. They are also used during Logholo chasing games; masqueraders play in the village common, chased by uninitiated boys. “Logholo is played in most Afikpo villages on eke (market) day.”2

"The "queen" has a female face and carries a child on her head. During Okumpka, she is often hidden in the center of the crowd of seated performers. Known as a woman who rejects suitor after suitor, she is the center of great attention whenever she gets up to dance. Male performers do their best to be as graceful and delicate as possible in portraying her."1

Distinguishing Features

  • Carved from single piece of wood
  • Largest Afikpo mask
    • Height = 19 - 25 inches
    • Width = 3 - 5 inches
  • White faced mask
    • Female face
    • Forehead painted black
    • Sometimes circle at centre of forehead
    • Oval cut out eyes
    • Long, straight, slightly convex nose
    • Bridge of nose painted black
    • Nostrils painted black
    • Tears carved from eyes down cheeks
    • Black patterns carved on cheeks
    • Black lips
    • Teeth carved in mouth
    • Bottom of chin is flat
  • Figure of seated child carved on top of mask
    • Black lips on figure
    • Protruding ears
    • Arms rest on knees
    • Protruding navel
    • Feet of figure one inch above mask head
    • Feet of figure rests on edge of circular platform above protruding post
    • Toes and fingers carved

Share this