Metropole Magazine

Today's Weather: Abuja NG: Partly Cloudy, Day 360|Night 260

29 Nov Written by  Ladi Opaluwa

So Masquerades, Too, Are Human

It was the third day of the Abuja International Carnival, the day of the masquerade parade. Traffic towards the Eagle Square was unusually heavy. The number of stalls lining the strip of land between the Federal Secretariat and the Eagle Square gave the impression that a trade fair, and not a carnival, was underway. On display were shoes, clothes, mobile phones, food, herbal medicines, books and such miscellaneous items. The traders used all tricks known to marketers to call attention to their stands. They bellowed, danced, sang, or simply enumerated the qualities of their wares. Many were lured.

Armed security officials and officers of the  Federal Roads Safety Corps and VIO patrolled the vicinity. The heavy presence of security personnel was more unsettling than assuring. Some officers of the National Security and Civil Defence Corps lashed on to German shepherds eagerly sniffing the air. What if they let go and these dogs cause a stampede. The officers will claim accidental release, the equivalent of accidental discharge, or blatantly deny involvement in the incidence. The following day headline of an editorial will be ‘Who Let the Dogs Out?’ Then after a week of Twitter outrage, the Senate will set up an ad-hoc committee to investigate the incidence. The committee will absolve the NSCDC of any wrongdoing. End of saga.

The police men were almost entirely in the new blue uniform but their disposition was as dark as ever. They accosted, yelled at, checked and double-checked spectators, before granting passage into the arena.

One of the pavilions was occupied by dignitaries, another by spectators, tourists and photojournalists, and another by security officials. More than half of the seats in the arena was empty. Anything from poor publicity, to insecurity, to religious reservations about some African cultural practices could be blamed for the low turnout.

A commentator introduced the masquerades as they passed, dancing if they were so inclined.  The Ekpe masquerade from Akwa Ibom, Agbaka from Kogi, Izaga from Anambra.... There were those with curious names like Colonial Soldiers and Father Abraham, suggesting that the masquerades themselves are post-colonial inventions. Whatever the inspiration for their designation, the masquerades, dressed up as they were with large wooden masks, grass wigs, and layers upon layers of shredded multi-coloured dresses, seemed in competition for the prize of the most illogical appearance. They were scary and impossible to fathom. Even without investing as much effort in their appearance, a set of female masquerades from Kwara State, who simply covered up with overflowing ankara wrappers were if anything, scarier and more fascinating. Being faceless is scary enough.

The commentator urged the masquerades to move on fast within the stipulated time allocated to each group. They ignored his appeal, or perhaps they did not understand his language. My suspicion of their humanity began on noticing some masquerades were not colour blind, as they favoured the foreign tourists and posed longer before their cameras, for there was their hope of attaining international exposure. If there was any lingering belief in the supernatural nature of masquerades, it disappeared when one of the masquerades blew a kiss into the audience, a particularly human trait. They even obliged spectators’ request for photographs.

Masquerades thrived on secrecy and the mystical. Their identity has been betrayed. I had always known anyway, but was not entirely sure. A large part of their appeal rested on that uncertainty. Sometimes, a long time ago, the Santa Claus enterprise of the Nigerian Television Authority, Lokoja, nosedived after rumours spread about the identity of the year’s Santa, a popular presenter at the station. The revelation was saddening. We knew Santa lived among us and was not from the North Pole, but a common disillusion sustained our awe.

The myth of masquerades as spirits continued to be set straight. It was past noon, the sun was high and intense. Temperature was put at 35 degrees, the meteorologist may have understated it though. After their parade, the less elaborately dressed masquerades settled onto the pavilion and undressed, and thus became one of us.