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  • Print publication year: 2019
  • Online publication date: April 2020

Carnivalization of Indigenous Performance Forms & the Demystification of Ritual Essence in Costume & Mask Designs of Masquerade Art


A marked shift and transformation in indigenous festivals in Nigeria has led to what I describe as the ‘carnivalization’ of cultural festivals. To explore this cultural change, this article examines costume and mask utilization in the Abuja Carnival (masquerade events) and the performance vagaries attached to it in its 2007 and 2008 editions. I argue that the similitude between the carnival and the masquerade performances in areas such as dance, music, costuming, masking, processional spectacular display results in major events that will continue to grant carnival and masquerade arts the desired popularity in Nigerian cities at the expense of its ritual undertones.


Over the ages, African indigenous performance forms have assumed a significant position in the people's everyday existence. Music, dance, praise-singing, storytelling, masking and costuming are indigenous performance forms still seen in many African communities. Each of these performance forms has its place in the socio-cultural development of its people, and reflects their progress and development, their aspirations and fears, belief systems and moral and social ethics. These indigenous performance forms and cultural signifiers have resisted the overbearing influence of Western acculturation. At every ceremony, entertainment comes from either dance, music, praise-singing or masquerading. Most times all of these performance forms come together in one unified art, leading to what scholars have described as African total theatre (Enekwe 1987; Amankulor 1989; Duraku 1997; Okagbue 2007; Irobi 2007; Nwosu 2014). Through the use of dance, music, costumes, space, gestures and other allied verbal and non-verbal communication cues, societal ethics and belief systems are sustained in the people’s way of life, with festivals marking one event or another in the communities.

In Igbo land, for example, central to the belief system is ancestor worship, represented by the masquerade, the most popular indigenous performance form. It is believed that the presence of the masquerade in the affairs of men signals their benevolence and willingness to co-exist with the people. Following the revered status of ancestors in African cosmology, rituals are often performed in order to welcome them into the midst of the people. However, with their preponderance in today's carnivals, it is left to question whether rituals of cleansing, appeasement or of any sort actually takes place before ‘revellers’ adorn their masks in these emergent street theatres.