The Ijele masquerade is the most revered and perhaps the most respected masquerade of all time in the Igbo social cultural system.
Who would not love Ijele? It is beautiful, it is majestic, and enormously colourful. Most Igbo men has at one point, or the other, named themselves after Ijele; owing to the splendor possessed by the beautiful masquerade. Even the popular Igbo Afro-pop singer, Flavour, refers to himself as “Ijele Africa”.
Ijele is the climax of the Igbo masquerade which makes it perform last, and perform alone in any occasion. Wherever the masquerade is bound to perform, people travel from afar to witness its dance, and majesty.
In the ancient years, it is said that 45 masquerades performs on the head of Ijele the great masquerade, and whenever ijele appears other smaller masquerade disappears in honour. However, in the recent times, the 45 masquerades are being represented by 45 figurines, placed carefully and artistically on the its head.
Ijele towers about 15ft in height; and was declared by the United Nations as the largest mask system in the world history. It has two segment; the upper, and the lower segment, divided on the center by a large python. The upper segment is called ‘Mkpu Ijele’ while the lower segment is called ‘Akpakwuru Ijele,’ and the python on the centre is called Eke Ogba.
It would also be important to state that Ijele is a dancing masquerade. One would wonder how Ijele moves its body to the rhythm of its music; but then, that is the great masquerade for you – it is full of wonders.
Ijele is listed in the UNESCO archives as an intangible cultural elements in need of “safe-guarding” it was actually created to drive away the early christian missionaries as well as celebrate greatness and royalty in Igbo land.
Well, it may interest you to know that a museum in London generates millions of dollars, pounds every year from the Ijele mask displayed in the said museum.
For all intents, it could be said that the artifact was stolen from Nigeria as London never had a history of such theatrical masquerade.
Foreigners make huge amount of money with our traditions, culture, and identity; but here in Igbo land Ijele seems forgotten. It is about time we returned to our roots.
Jude Ifesinachi reporting, Obinwannem News