This paper examines the educational importance of the Igbo masquerade, focusing on Owu, of the South-Eastern Igbo. Our perspective combines social science and art appreciation, leaving the religious dimension largely aside. In view of the masquerade’s educational importance, we examine the aesthetics, socio-cultural and environmental-economic implications of the masquerade. We underscore lessons taught by the masquerade’s myth of origin and its performances, their multi-dimensional, kinesthetic and gendered presentations, costumes, materials, objects, paraphernalia, tangible and ephemeral components. The Owu-Okoroshi masquerade is based in a secret society, its history, hierarchy, titles, social functions, and initiation rites; masquerades are complex and involve timed festivals, multiple events and components. Contemporary performances are significant artistic expressions concerning the culture, its history, individual members and communities, social transformation and global issues. The masquerade entertains and simultaneously educates participants on various levels; it provides participants and audiences with an awareness and deep knowledge of Igbo culture and its history, and has an important impact on personal and collective identity, social coherence, peace and security.
There are many different ways of looking at the arts: from the perspective of an art historian, a collector, a critic, a connoisseur, a social scientist, spiritual motivation and more. The author of this paper is an anthropologist focusing on education. She presents her findings from the combined perspectives of social science and art appreciation, purposely leaving the religious dimension largely aside.
The masquerade is the most prolific art form of the Igbo people. This paper focuses on Owu described as a major masking tradition of the South-Eastern Igbo by art historians (Cole and Aniakor, 1984, map B). Yet, Owu is much more. Its educational value is extremely important. According to Chief Azogu, an Oguta elder and scholar, “Owu is an institution on which most of Oguta'scustom is hinged. It can be described as the cornerstone of the town's tradition, a law-making body and a law enforcement agency” (Azogu, 1998, p. 85). Owu masquerade is a highly complex cultural institution; it is based on a hierarchically organized secret society that educates and initiates young men into adulthood; it preserves and teaches
cultural knowledge, norms and history; it educates on cultural ideals, aesthetics and ethics, gender, and the local environment; it prepares major local economic activities; it displays the norms and the anti-thesis of Igbo civilization, exposes, satirizes and criticizes misfits, punishes offenders, reveals current issues, teaches and entertains the public.
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