Mmanwu is a traditional masquerade of the Igbo people of southeastern Nigeria. Their culture revolves around work and entertainment; the Igbo people, masquerade is a major form of entertainment. The masquerade revolves around their community and masquerades can differ from village to village. Masquerades generally last for a few weeks. However, some may span over a few months. These events are frequently performed during the end of the harvesting season and the start of the new planting season. There are some Igbo that perform masquerades throughout the entire year. Masquerades are used to honor the dead and pray to the gods for a successful planting season. Since the Igbo only know their history through oral interpretation, the origins of the masquerade have been lost.


The Igbo masquerades, mmanwu, are traditional performances acted out by exclusive secret societies within a community. These exclusive societies consist of adult male members. Each member must be initiated into the society. Their identity is known only to the other members. The main function of these societies is to celebrate the harvest and to entertain the village people. Some other functions include enforcing village curfews, protection, and serving as village security guards. The members, also known as masqueraders, wear masks to hide their identity from the rest of the village. The mask is also worn to resemble the spirit of a dead community member. By wearing the mask, a masquerader is thought to have spiritual powers that are conducted through the mask.

The living-dead are what these masquerade/spirits embody. Igbo people believe that the dead never actually die; rather, they remain in a “personal immortal state”. They reside somewhere between the earthly world and the spiritual world. These living-dead are believed to be closely related to those of the village. Since men are masqueraders, they are buried within their homes so their spirits may be close to their families. The living-dead then return to the earthly world from time to time to offer spiritual advice. It is the living-dead, who the masquerade portrays.

Also Read: Yoruba culture (Western Nigeria) part1

Masquerades (Mmanwu) are held in accordance with the community native calendars during festivals, annual festivities, burial rites and other social gatherings. The masquerades are geared in colourful robes and masks made of wood or fabric. Some masks appear only at one festival, but the majority appears at many or all. Masquerades are associated with spiritual elements, as according to Igbo belief, they represent images of deities or sometimes even dead relatives. The identity of the masquerade is a well-kept secret and performed exclusively by men.

In the past, masquerades were regarded as the means for maintaining peace and order and were primarily used as law enforcement agents. The whole village would come out for the ceremony of the colourful masquerades. While entertaining through dances and exhibiting extra-human feats, the masquerades would walk up to certain individuals and loudly expose any bad habits, crimes or misbehaviour of that person. As people would always take corrections from these exposures, the masquerades were effective in keeping up with traditional norms and values in the communities.

Also Read: Igbo Culture (Eastern Nigeria)

Types of mmanwu

There are two basic types of masquerades, visible and invisible. The visible masquerades are meant for the public. They often are more entertaining. Masks used offer a visually appeal for their shapes and forms. In these visual masquerades, performances of harassment, music, dance, and parodies are acted out.

The invisible masquerades take place at night. Sound is the main tool for them. The masquerader uses his voice to scream so it may be heard throughout the village. The masks used are usually fierce looking and their interpretation is only fully understood by the society members. These invisible masquerades call upon a silent village to strike fear in the hearts of those not initiated into their society.

The invisible masquerades can be broken down into three groups, achikwu ocha/ojii, agu mmuno, and ogbagu. The achikwu ocha (white) masquerade acts as village surveillance. The “entertainment” activities include “singing, joking, and dancing”. Achikwu ojii (black) is the other side of the achikwu ocha masquerade. This is performed not only to protect the village, but also when there is going to be a punishment or execution of a criminal. The second group of invisible masquerades is agu mmuno (tiger spirit). In these masquerades, horrible screaming sounds are produced to create fear. The third group is ogbagu. It is “strictly used for dance entertainment”.


Ajibuzu Ndi Idemili 



Okeihwu Nnewi



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Atunma Ndi Idemili



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