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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The ritual-theatricality of Igbo masks and masquerades Onwuzolum, Emmanuel Chidi


This thesis is part of a larger project that included an exhibition at the Museum of Anthropology entitled "The World of Spirits" (July 5 -August 31, 1977), which served as an introduction to Igbo masks and masquerades as embodying some of the most profound and religious beliefs of the Igbo people of South-eastern Nigeria. The exhibit demonstrated that underlying the visual diversity of Igbo art is a unity of Igbo conceptions of the supernatural. Accompanying the exhibition were slide presentations and a live performance, All of the components of the project, including this thesis, are related attempts to present Igbo masks, i.e. material objects normally found in museums, within an anthropological context which takes the museum visitor or the reader beyond the objects themselves into their meaning in terms of Igbo culture. The project is thus a demonstration of the necessary relationship between the practice of museology and the discipline of anthropology. Such a relationship is a bilateral one, in which not only do ethnographic data and the theoretical frameworks of ethnology extend a museum's presentation and interpretation of objects, but the attention of anthropologists is directed towards objects as significant foci for study. More specifically, the thesis provides the indispensable ethnological background upon which the exhibit was based. It includes original ethnographic materials on initiation, masks, and masquerades at Ozubulu, derived from the author's participant observation of both initiation and the Ozoebunna masquerade. This material is augmented with published records from the Afikpo and Awka areas of Igboland to highlight the necessary connection between initiation and masquerade, Then, using conceptual formulations of E.R. Leach on ritual, Mircea Eliade on sacred time, and Elmer Rice on theatre, Igbo masquerade is examined in terms of the concept of ritual theatre. While ritual gives power and meaning to the mask, the masquerade performance is a theatrical experience which involves the initiates of the mmuo society as actors and the other members of the Igbo community as audience, The entertainment feature of masquerades has not previously received due attention in the anthropological literature, probably because anthropologists are not normally participants in them. This project on Igbo masquerade is a presentation of African aesthetics and culture by an African. The number of such studies are growing as it becomes increasingly evident that African scholars must pay greater attention to studying their traditional cultural institutions so as to utilize pertinent aspects of such studies for development and planning, not only in museology but in other areas of contemporary life as well.

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