Igbo mask dancers performing during the Onwa Asaa festival, Ugwuoba village, Nigeria.

Masquerade dancers in Ibo village of Ugwuoba, between Awka and Enugu. Masked and costumed men are chosen by their villages to wear costumes and to masquerade during the annual yam festival, called ‘Onwasato’ in Ibo.

The appearance of the moon governs the communal activities such as the commencement of farm work, festivities and ritual offerings. For example, the seventh moon (Onwa asaa) appears in August and marks the month of the thanksgiving service to the ancestors. The community in turn obtains permission to eat new yams without fear of reprisals from their ancestors.

The eighth month is Onwa asato, which appears during the month of September or October. Onwa asaa refers to the month when the ritual feast of new yam is celebrated. The seventh month thus becomes the official title by which the activity is known.

During this festival, the appearance of masks and the masquerading features merely mark the celebration of the feast.” [Anigbo O., 1987: Commensality and Human Relationship Among the Igbo. University of Nigeria Press]. This photograph was taken when Eliot Elisofon was on assignment for Life magazine and traveled to Africa from August 18, 1959 to December 20, 1959.
Vintage Nigeria

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