Art from the Ijo Spirit World

by Martha G. Anderson
Alfred University

Ofuruma (“shark”) masquerade in a performance sponsored by Martha G. Anderson. Ondewari, Olodiama clan. Central Ijo peoples, Nigeria, 1992. Photo by Martha G. Anderson.

Ijo masquerades often tell stories; their simple plots ostensibly portray events in the lives of water spirits, but often cloak social criticism and lessons on proper behavior in the guise of entertainment.  Many feature the taming of wild beasts.  A Central Ijo masquerade begins when a masker wearing a mullet headpiece runs through town warning people that, "Sharks are coming so little fish should run and hide."  Ofurumo, or Shark, appears on a raft in the river, where a fisherman and his wife perform a hilarious parody of a fishing expedition.  Each time the man throws his spear at Ofurumo, their canoe capsizes.  When Ofurumo comes ashore, his son and wife join him in dancing and chasing spectators, but the fishing couple resumes the hunt on land, dragging their canoe around the arena as they pursue their prey.  At last, after repeatedly capsizing, the fisherman spears Ofurumo and hauls him into the canoe.