Art from the Ijo Spirit World

by Martha G. Anderson
Alfred University

Mask associated with Lake Adigbe in a performance sponsored by Martha G. Anderson. Osiama, Oyakiri clan. Western Ijo peoples, Nigeria, 1992. Photo by Martha G. Anderson.

Some Ijo masquerades involve harnessing the powers of nature for the good of humanity; thus the hostile, transgressive behavior maskers exhibit proves to be something more than slapstick comedy.  According to legend, this masquerade originated when a tiger fish took up residence in a sacred lake and frustrated local fishermen by killing many of the other fish.  When one of them finally succeeded in catching the voracious predator, townspeople decided to use its animosity to rid the town of evil, and created a masquerade.  Kabi, or Tiger Fish, still appears at a dry season fishing festival; he enters the arena in a portable cage, slashes through it with his machete, and begins chasing spectators energetically.  Two other characters, representing a lake perch and a tilapia, join Kabi in the arena, where an unmasked dance demonstrator guides them through dance sequences.  All behave in typical owu fashion, switching abruptly from intricate dance steps to wild rampages.