UNN resumption date for new session

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Odo Masquerade in Northern Igbo Land: A Cultural Resource in Demise

Odo Masquerade in Northern Igbo Land: A Cultural
Resource in Demise
Oguamanam, C.C., Odum, C.J. and Ezeh, K.
Department of Archaeology and Tourism,
University of Nigeria, Nsukka
Odo masquerade, which is known to use satire in admonishing evil doers in the society, wields both
spiritual and administrative powers. Its celebration is regarded as a time of justice for the
oppressed. This remarkable masquerade has attracted little or no attention, and where it is
documented, it has been through formalist scholars like Meek and Basden. Ethnographic method,
basically, in-depth interviews was adopted for the study. The study aims to document Odo
masquerade practice in Neke and its contribution to tourism development. The study revealed that
its practitioners have abused its powers. Odo masquerade has deprived people of their rights,
disrupted their life and intimidated women and children. Consequently, there is disenchantment
and loss of interest in the practice among the younger ones, while modernity and foreign religion
are also taking their toll on the institution. The paper recommends an appraisal of the method of
practising Odo and how tourism can be used to revive and promote Odo masquerade.
Keywords: Masquerade, Odo, Neke, Tourism.
Masquerade is a common feature in the cultural milieu of the Igbo
people. It is seen as a means of communication between the living and the
dead where the spirits through a messenger, usually masquerade, bless or
curse the living. In the African tradition, the living maintains a close tie with
the dead and this is manifested in different festivals which invariably feature
different masquerades, and these celebrations are filled with merriments,
dances, music (Ezenagu and Olatunji, 2014; Onyeneke, 1987).
Odo and Omabe are the common types of masquerades in Nsukka
area. They are believed to have a common origin that is related to Ehamufu
and Ikem (Onyeneke, 1987 and Meek, 1930. Odo masquerade is exclusively a
male dominated enterprise that is shrouded in secrecy, but it is taken in Igbo-
Odo communities as a traditional administration that plays both spiritual
and social leadership roles. Odo is also a moralist and an entertainer at the
same time’ (Ezechi, 2010:148). It serves as an agent of social change, arbiter of
justice, entertainer, messenger of the gods etc. Odo masquerade institution is
threatened by factors such as the practice of Odo itself, foreign religion,
abuse of human right, un-fair treatment of opposite sex, aging among men
practising Odo, and so on.
Journal of Tourism and Heritage Studies 79 © 2018: Oguamanam, C.C. et. al.
Vol. 7, No. 1, 2018
Due to paucity of written records on Odo masquerade and its
activities, the concept was misconceived. Furthermore, there is the issue
colonization in which certain cultural manifestations like shrines and
masquerade were termed evil and fetish. Secondly, with development and
urbanization, some of the areas that were designated as sacred like shrines,
groves and houses of Odo were pulled down. With this new quest for
development, the love and interest in Odo have dwindled; the younger
generation see it as something to do away with.
There are different schools of thought concerning the origin of
masquerade in Igboland. Scholars like Enekwe (1987) pointed to Nri, Basden
(1983) believed that it came from Eha Ihenyi. Meanwhile masquerades like
Odo and Omabe were traced to Igala area by Shelton (1971) and Afigbo
(1981), but Aniakor (1978 in Onyeke, 1987) argued that both Odo and Omabe
came from Idoma. Nzekwu (1981) cited by Ezechi (2010) gave credence to the
claim of Igala being the probable center of origin while Ezechi (2010) added
that Igbo masquerade institution must have been influenced by their
neighbours which Igala is one of them.
The controversy surrounding the origin of masquerade in Igboland is
equally the same in our study area. The origin of Odo as a word and a
culture is a myth. There are two schools of thought about the origin of Odo in
Neke. The first is that a woman from Ikem discovered Odo while in search of
firewood. She was said to have encountered a strange object which terrified
her; she ran home and reported to her husband who hurried back to the spot
with her. When the man saw the strange figure, he exclaimed: Ele o! The
strange figure responded: ‘Ele nwam’ and from that time, ‘Ele’ became a
password for Odo masquerade institution. Another theory or myth has it
that Neke people were involved in a lot of wars and as a result of several
attacks on them by several villages and communities who were then under
the rulership of the Oba of Benin. In their efforts to survive the incessant
attacks, they decided to come up with a creative defense and protective
mechanism to protect themselves from weapons used to fight them. They
built protective structures around people who put on the masquerades using
the spear of palm trees. This school of thought strongly believes that it
started as a defense structure to protect the wearer from attacks of the enemy
and not as a god. This work addresses the socio-cultural values of Odo
masquerade, it potentials for tourism development and how the art can be
Neke is one of the five autonomous communities that make up Isiuzo
Local Government Area of Enugu State, Nigeria. It is traversed by the
lines 6° 46N latitude and 7° 37E longitude of the equator. The other towns
within the Local Government Area are Mbu, Ikem, Eha-Amufu and Umu-
Journal of Tourism and 80 Heritage Studies
Alor. Their other surrounding neighbours are Obollo in Udenu Local
Government Area and Nike in Enugu-East Local Government Area. Neke
has satellite towns and settlements such as Onueme, Agudene, Ugwu-
Akparata, Ugwu-Ochimkpu, Echiku, Obodo – Mbeze, Ekpurum, Ugwu-
Adaka etc (Agbo, 2002:2).
Fig.1: Map of Isi-Uzo Showing the Study Area.
The Meaning of Odo
Etymologically, Odo is the Igbo word for the colour yellow. The
colour is locally got from extracts of certain plants or woods and from seeds,
flowers or tubers, ground and mixed with water. The paste or dried
‘glorizza’ powder is used for decoration in traditional arts and it is believed
to have a ritual effect. The Odo colour is used in decorating the Odo mask,
blended with white and black colours all cast on the light green or yellowish
background of the fresh palm frond – omu nkwu – that forms the basic
costume for this masquerade. Odo colour also assumes a mythical link with
the Odo masquerades (Ezechi, 2011:78).
Odo is equally a generic name for the various species of masquerades
within the Igbo – Odo subculture. A short form of Odomagana. The meaning
Odo Masquerade in Northern Igbo Land 81
of Odo magana (otherwise called Akawo) is not very clear; but Okeke and
Okechukwu think that it suggests ‘well-set’ or that which sets things right.
They argue that “this is appropriately the mission of Odo bringing some
system into an otherwise chaotic world.” This moralist definition is favoured
by Odo’s ability to take on evil doers in society and to promote righteousness
and industry through its satirical demonstrations among other means.
Ultimately, Odo as a masquerade is very powerful in the people’s world
view. It supplies all their needs, assures their maximum security and is
capable of great feats. Consequently, anyone who achieves some great feat
among the people is metaphorically called Odo.
Some natives also believe that Odomagna is mystically related to
Anumagana, the porcupine. This thorny animal is linked by traditional
mythologies to the spirit of the Odo, and given the people’s belief about the
security of the just man, the Anumagana link points to the moral probity of
anyone who celebrates the Odo. However, the Odo, like many other human
cultural institutions, has often degenerated to the very opposite of this
fundamental usage, this will be discussed later in this work.
Furthermore, Odo can be used as an appellation for the male child,
used by adult males to greet another when one has forgotten the person’s
name. In this situation, it literally means my friend. A times, Odo is also used
as the child’s local word for daddy, Odom (my father). And it is also used for
personal names like: Nwaodo (Son of Odo), Ododile (active Odo), Ugwuodo
(hill/valley associated with Odo). These names depict ideological expression
of Odo’s inalienable relevance to the people’s existence and cultural milieu.
The Making of Odo Masquerade
The people of Neke were said to have decided that they would not
procure normal masquerades that are made of clothing as most other clans
do. They needed a masquerade that would be intimidating, scary and fearful
to behold. The people were also said to have felt that masquerades made
with clothes cannot resist arrows, spears, machetes and clubs, especially
when attacked from a close range.
The spears of palm trees are used in making Odo, especially the Omu
or Igu-nkwu usually the new ones that are yellowish in colour. They are
usually used to cordon off areas termed to be holy or sacred, demarcate area
that is under contest, indicate that a deity is in charge of the area, object or
property where it is placed, etc. It is these yellow coloured spears of palm
trees that were used in making the masquerade. The preparation of one Odo
is tasking; it requires strength, skills, time and total commitment. The
preparation of an Odo is done by youth and usually at night when people are
deeply asleep. The initiates of Odo masquerade climb palm trees with sharp
Journal of Tourism and 82 Heritage Studies
double edged knives and rip-off fresh palm fronds quietly. Bundles of newly
harvested palm fronds are taken to the Odo forest (Uham) for processing.
Next, tough forest climbers are cut to be used in constructing the
head and shoulder skeleton of the Odo. The processed yellowish leaves are
tied and fixed on this skeleton. The length and bulk of any Odo masquerade
depend on the height and strength of the man who would carry the
completed mask and regalia. The head of the completed Odo is painted with
various colours; red, black, blue and yellow.
The ugliest of all the Odos is Okurenkpume (fire cannot consume
stone) because its face is painted black. And it got that name because it was
said to have been set ablaze during the Nigerian – Biafran civil war (1967-
1970), but it was not consumed. It was said to have acquired its black face as
a result of the fire. The two flagships of the Odo deity in Neke carry many
feathers on their chests usually stuck there with the blood of chickens and
goats sacrifices to them. The head is also stuck with the long feathers from
the tails and wings of sacrificed chickens. These dreaded Odo flagships are
Nchuma and Okurenkpume. All other Odos (the lesser odos) owe allegiance to
these big two. Each of these Odos has its own messenger. For Okurenkpume,
Ngbavuru is his messenger, while Nchuma has Bakawu as its messenger.
Both (Nchuma and Okurenkpume) have one “wife” called Ogorozhi and it is
the most beautiful of all the Odo masquerades. In one Odo year, Ogorozhi
will return with Nchuma, in another Odo season, “she” will come with
Okurenkpume. But in addition, Okurenkpume, has a young messenger
called Adaka. Every other odo in all the villages has an Adaka each.
Below is the list of the Odos in Neke: (i) Nchuma, whose custodian is
Umu-Onoka clan (ii) Bakawu, the messenger of Nchuma, (iii) Okurenkpume,
whose custodian is Egbe – Aneke clan (iv) Ngbavuru, the messenger of
Okurenkpume, (iv) Adaka Okurenkpume, (v) Ogorozhi, the “wife” of
Nchuma and Okurenkpume. The six Odos mentioned above belong to the
entire Neke community. The Egbe-Aneke and Umu-Onoka families or clans
are custodians on behalf of the people. And they enjoy about 80% of the
proceeds from the sacrifice to these Odos.
Table 1: List of Odos in Neke and the villages they come from
Name of Odo Village it belongs to
Oshitowere Isi –enu
Akpasuru nwenwu Umu–egwu
Omegu Omaru Umu-egwu
Odo Masquerade in Northern Igbo Land 83
Okwu Anyigu oha Umu-egwu
Azhi – Akwu Umu-egwu
Oji Amigu Negu Akpani
Okwu anyiagu oha Echie Obodo Akpani
Ede Awogu nwa-Ngwere Umu ugwu
Egu Amagu Ukaducho Obeguaba
Odo Ugwu Eku Umu Ezenohe
Source: Fieldwork.
Each village’s Odo has its own priest, shrine, temple and house
where the Odo is kept when no one is inside it. Worthy of discussion among
all the Odo’s in Neke is Odo Ugwu Eku.
Plate 1: Odo mask made fresh palm fronds. Plate 2: Odo entertaining the people
Source:www.youtube.com Source:www.thenationonlineng.net/odo-masquerade
Odo Ugwu Eku (The Most Dreadful Odo in Neke)
Odo Ugwu Eku is a rebellious Odo. It is designed to be a far from
both Nchuma and Okurenkpume. The Odo deity is obviously a resource
generating venture. The Umu Onoka and the Umu Egbe–Aneke appropriate
a large percentage of the sacrifices made to Nchuma and Okurenkpume,
respectively. These sacrifices include cows, goats, rams, cocks, yams, monies,
clothes, etc.
A clan in Akpani village, the Umu Ezenohe, felt dissatisfied with the
way the proceeds from the Odo worship were being shared. Since the Odos
from all the villages owe allegiance to one of the two big Odos, a percentage
of whatever the village Odos (who have their own priests as well) could raise
is usually sent back as tributes to these two flagship Odos. The chief priests
Journal of Tourism 84 and Heritage Studies
of these two powerful Odos also became affluent and men of great standing
in the society because they were said to have been favoured as a result of
their being chosen by these powerful deities. They, therefore, represent the
gods among men. In a bid to show their annoyance, the Umu Ezenohe clan
perfected a grand design to institute her own Odo, which would be as (if not
more powerful than) the two big Odos. One of their sons was the one in
charge of carrying (wearing) the “Messenger” of Nchuma called Bakawu.
And in about the year 1938, they grabbed Bakawu, took it to their clan and
from it built the Odo Ugwu-Eku. The Odo became so powerful and so
dreaded that a lot of people believed in its efficacy much more than any other
Odos in Neke.
Odo Ugwu –eku had a messenger (not another Odo but just a god)
which was so deadly that many people appealed to it. This god was called
Ogenegba. If anyone steals from you and you go to Ogenegba to kill the
person, it would kill that person instantly. And if the family fails to quickly
go and appease the gods, it would start killing the members of the victim’s
family. The stolen property cannot be used by anyone again otherwise the
person would incur the wrath of the deadly god. So at the shrine of the god,
one could easily see properties such as bicycles, hoes, machetes, money,
goats, etc.
The Return
Odo is believed to return from the spirit world at the expected
season. This return” is technically known in Igbo vernacular as “Odida Odo”
(literally “fall of Odo”), a concept which conjures the image of coming down
from on high, a glorious descent. The mystery of the return makes it
awesome and the people are enthusiastic about it. Once the first moon of the
Odo season is sighted, which in the native week’s calculation falls probably
within November, the exact day for the return of Odo is fixed by native
calendar makers, usually priests and elders of each village with the help of
Nchuma comes back first with elaborate celebrations at Ugwu Odo
where it will be seen. After Nchuma, Okurenkpume comes back. The
celebrations to mark the return of these Odos are characterized by elaborate
festivities in families and the community at large. The celebrations involve
racing by able men representing various units of the village and lashing bout
in which youths pair up to test their bravery and strength as they flog
themselves with canes on their bare bodies, all to entertain the spectators in
the market square (a practice that is equally associated with Egwu-Imo
Awka, in Anambra State). The elderly men thrill the crowd with mellow
drama that captures local stories. There is free-for-all drinking in the midst of
Odo Masquerade in Northern Igbo Land 85
all these, while some rich people among them take friends home for
sumptuous feasting. Odo stays about two weeks to allow other ceremonies
to happen before it comes out to the village to dwell in the compound of the
Atamah Odo.
The Sojourn
The period of sojourn describes the stay of Odo among the people,
from the time of arrival to its departure. In Neke, it lasts for about six to eight
months. During its sojourn, Odo does not come out on Orie day, one of the
four native market days in Igbo calendar to give people the liberty to go
about their businesses without fear of any sort. But on the remaining market
days, namely Eke, Afor and Nkwo. extra care is taken in order not to offend
the gods of the land in any way. During this period, also, Odo moves about
from village to village and even compound to compound to visit important
men who present rich sacrifices to it. There, sacrifices are made by both men
and women and each worshipper prays to Odo and presents his/her
requests. Odo replies in coded secret cult language which is interpreted to
the worshipper by a selected member of the secret cult committee. The Odo
also displays what it can offer its worshippers by way of justice and fairness.
Initiation of youngsters into the Odo cult is also held during the sojourn. The
initiation ceremony is a significant ritual in Odo culture, which symbolises
the formal admission of youth into the male society.
The Departure
The departure of Odo to the spirit world is celebrated with pomp and
pageantry. People who made promises to Odo if they found solutions to a
particular problem they complained of the previous year fulfil them if they
were successful and new requests are made. The people are usually sad at
the departure of Odo even though they are aware that the ancestral spirits
never leave the community in the ‘real’ sense. Odo’s continued presence can
be deduced from the customary libations of the priest to it as well as the
incessant recourse to its counsel by litigating parties.
The smaller Odos leave before the two principal Odos. They do so on
fixed dates. Each of the two principal Odos has its own day of departure.
Women and children are prohibited from witnessing Odo the last two or
three days to its departure. The masker at this point does not wear his mask,
but still speaks and acts satirically. A metal gong (Ogene) is usually sounded
to herald this episode. The aim is to maintain the secrecy of the Odo cult,
while ensuring that all the uninitiated persons do not partake in its secret
Journal of Tourism and 86 Heritage Studies
The Odo moves around the village silently and unseen by people,
tracing not the normal village roads, but the traditional pathways of the
ancient generations. It then departs to the land of the dead. The departure of
Odo is often associated with ascending the hill or crossing the stream, and in
Igbo mythology, hills and streams usually depict boundaries between the
living and the dead. When Odo ascends the hill, it is usually escorted by
male youths and spiritual persons (especially, titled men and chief priests),
who would stop at a certain point and return to the village because they
cannot follow Odo to the land of the dead, for that would amount to death.
The Odo must proceed alone to the land of the spirit world. The departure of
Odo is also accompanied by the disposal of cult materials used during the
season, some are burnt and the more valuable ones stored away. In the past,
conflicts and dangerous competitions in occultism amongst rival Odo units,
who tried to prove their mettle by any means whatsoever, ensued as the Odo
departs to the land of the spirits.
Plate 3: Odo masquerade (Source: www.nairaland.com)
The Secret of Odo Cult
The Odo deity operates one of the most sophisticated secret networks
that the world of traditionalism has ever known. “In fact, the driving force of
the Odo deity is the secrecy surrounding the procurement and manifestation
of its masquerades” (Agbo 2014. Per.comm). Ugwueze (per.comm. 2014)
added thus: “Secrecy is the secret of the secret cult.” It is around this secret
that most activities of the Odo deities hangs. The masquerades that the
human beings wear is said to have come from the spirit world, as a result, it
is held in awe and many would gladly do anything for Odo as far as it is said
Odo Masquerade in Northern Igbo Land 87
that it was a pronouncement from the spiritual world. Everything must be
done to preserve this secret, no cost is too much, no price is too high to pay,
as long as the secret is kept intact.
To carry the Odo mask is a big task. So, during the night, the cultists
do not wear the Odo mask to avoid the obvious suffocation that usually
results. To ensure that the masker remains unknown, a myth was built
around it which says that any woman or uninitiated person who sees Odo in
the night would die. In those days, if a woman inadvertently kills a scorpion,
both at home and in the farm, the woman’s husband would go and tell Odo
devotees. They would come with one Odo in the night and tell the woman to
bring a piece of cloth, a cock, tubers of yam etc to be used in “burying” the
scorpion, Odo usually claims that the scorpion is its son. The woman not
knowing that it was her own husband that told them, the poor woman
would quickly produce the items and then add some money to it. It is worthy
of note that most of the vengeance or deaths attributed to the judgmental
wrath of Odo were actually carried out by its devotees or agents who were
under oath to do whatever it took to keep the secret of the cult group.
Language of Odo Cult
In order to safeguard its secrets, the custodians of the Odo cult had to
develop their own diction. This is a language that no one else in the world
can speak except those that have access to the cult’s secrets. Not even all the
initiated males could understand the language unless they can diligently
study it. The impenetrable secrecy guaranteed by the language makes the
entire Odo worship very mysterious; only the person carrying an Odo is
allowed to speak it. On no account should anyone not wearing the mask
speak the language, except inside the various Odo forests.
Usually, when any Odo visits a family, it comes with a gang of
devotees, and when it begins to speak its usual language, one of the devotees
would be interpreting whatever it says to the people in the compound.
Examples and meaning of the Odo language are shown in table 2.
Table 2: Language of the Odo Masquerade Cult
S/No Local Language Odo Language English Language
1 Nwanyi Ahon Woman
2 Ishi Oji Head
3 Aka Njegere Hand
4 Obi Nguduma Heart
5 Ihu Egedege Face
6 Mmiri ogbam geregere Water
Journal of Tourism and 88 Heritage Studies
7 Mmanya otum geregere Wine
8 Onye Obia Ahetugo Stranger
9 Anu Ajigbu Meat
10 Ji agworoagwo Uputu food especially pottage
11 Nwata mie tete ebi Child
12 Kusie ike mie kpoo Beat or hit hard
13 Egbe ode girigiri Gun
14 Okuko ikok etc Cock
Source: Fieldwork
Like any other language that is alive and dynamic, when new words
are needed, they are produced. When the white men came and brought some
new things, the following words entered the cult’s lexicography.
Table 3: Other Languages of the Odo Masquerade Cult
S/No Local Language Odo Language English Language
1 Akwukwo Hachakpa Book
2 Ego Igwe Gwegiri Money (coins)
3 Ego Akwukwo Hakpara Money (note)
4 Ugboala Oya wuwuwu Lorry
5 Mma agha Ogbugu etc Sword
Source: Fieldwork.
Odo and Women
Odo, in general, is customarily conceived in masculine terms but the
Odo is not necessarily anti feminine. Some Odo characters play women roles
in the masquerade family and these women, therefore, refer to themselves as
wives of these Odo characters. In spite of this, women are generally excluded
from real participation in Odo, their exclusion seems to be inspired by the
patriarchal hegemony in the Igbo worldview. Sometimes, reasons given for
their exclusion are superstitious and seemingly irrational. It is usually said
that women are incapable of tolerating hazards, that they cannot keep secrets
and most especially, that their periodic menstrual flow makes them
unworthy to appear before the sacred. In fact, it is known that the chief priest
of Odo does not touch his wife (wives) or eat food prepared by a woman
during his period of purification and preparation for the major rituals of
Odo. Within that period, which is often not prolonged, he may have to live
on roasted yam eaten with palm oil and salt.
Nevertheless, the Odo season brings stress for women in terms of
labour, cost and restrictions in movement and expression, yet they supply
Odo Masquerade in Northern Igbo Land 89
the services, provide the food and gifts for Odo. For instance, it is
traditionally an abomination for a woman to see an unmasked Odo or even
to discuss publicly a number of issues about Odo. The affairs of Odo are not
discussed to the hearing of women. On no account will a woman venture
into the Odo forest or taste any edible, which has been touched by Odo even
if she prepared the food.
It is believed that the violation of these prohibitions attracts dire
consequences ranging from terrible ailment to death, unless some cleansing
rituals are performed. Thus, in spite of all the arguments that women are
included in Odo culture, there is an overwhelming evidence of
discrimination against them.
Taboos Associated with Odo Worship
The culture and traditions of the people of Neke are structured and
built around their belief and worship of Odo, which have greatly influenced
their lifestyle, dos and don’ts because things have to be done in a way that
the gods would not be angry and unleash its wrath on the people. It is to this
effect that the killing of scorpions and snakes, most especially when Odo is
on ground, is considered a taboo. This is as a result of their belief that these
creatures are sons of Odo.
Also, during the Odo period, no woman dares to ask any man about
his movements, they can go out and come back any time they want. Also,
during the period, strangers or uninitiated men as well as women and
children are not permitted to come out to the streets for any reason
whatsoever, if for any reason there is need for movement by women,
children, strangers or uninitiated men, there must be a person who is an Odo
devotee to accompany them and he would shout “ogbanedu,” meaning, “I am
uninitiated,” as they move. As the Odo and its devotees roam around the
streets, they are usually vigilant and upon hearing the word “ogbanedu,” they
look for a hiding place to allow the uninitiated pass without seeing them.
Any violation of these taboos is usually visited with either a serious ailment
or death. Often, very costly animals and rituals are used for purification and
appeasement of the gods.
Impact of Odo Masquerade Practice in Neke
Odo worship in Neke has its down sides. In a bid to uphold
traditions a lot of negative things happen. These are: (i) Deprivation of the
right of movement; the Odo members compel all women and non-natives not
to come out of their premises between 7 pm and 6 am any year Odo roams
about Neke. The only exception is if such a person would seek the help of an
initiated native male to shout “ogbanedu”. This is supposed to be a public
Journal of Tourism and 90 Heritage Studies
acknowledgement that Odo holds sway over all persons in Neke, therefore,
trampling on peoples’ constitutional right to movement. The situation
worsens during una Odo (Odo’s period of departure). No woman or nonnative
is allowed after 10am to leave her premises until the next morning two
days to its disappearance. No church activity would take place outside the
church building, no school would function. In case of any breach, there is no
fine, the punishment is death! During this period, the devotees line up stark
naked, and walk around the town with lots of charms, talisman (ii)
Disruption of social life: During the celebration of Mgbamike, a special feast
held in honour of Odo which for three consecutive days, Christians are
earmarked for torture. Hordes of young Odo adherents and devotees put on
hastily made Odo masks known as “Ujeme” and go about to assault
Christians found outside their premises and often loot their property. In the
view of the Odo cult members, it is considered an affront for anyone to go to
church, school or to engage in any activity not pertaining to Odo worship.
Penalties could be death, maiming or mass looting of property; (iii)
Disfranchisement: a new trend which members of the Odo cult adopt in
order to ensure that Christians do not participate in discussing important
issues that affect the lives of all members of the community, is to schedule
meetings to take place at Odo forests. They know that Christians would not
submit to attending meetings in such “profane” places. The consequence is
that decisions affecting Christians are taken without their participation. (v)
Insecurity and loss of access to visitors: as a result of the fear created in the
minds of the members of the public, many employees of government and its
agencies decline postings to Neke. They elect to lose their jobs if it is
inevitable rather than work in a community where Odo cultism subjects
everyone to persistent insecurity of life and property. Students who are not
natives of Neke refuse to attend schools in Neke where competent teachers
have been scared away. Even students who are natives do all they could do
to get transferred to Isi-uzo Secondary School from the Community
Secondary School, Neke. The result is that the school in Neke has become
deserted and dilapidated. (vi) Retrogression: The schism, frustration and
confusion which the evil and increasing acts of lawlessness of the members
of Odo masquerade have unleashed on Neke community have combined to
destroy the patriotism and unity of purpose which Neke needs in order to
march forward in this modern period. The above assertions were equally
noted by (Ezichi, 2010).
Challenges Facing Odo Masquerade Celebration in Neke
A number of factors have been affecting the smooth running and
practices of the Odo masquerade institution and worship. These challenges
Odo Masquerade in Northern Igbo Land 91
have posed serious problems to the effective maintenance of the traditional
way of worship of Odo deity in the study area. Some of these challenges are
mentioned below:
i. Foreign Religion: Foreign religion like Christianity has posed great
threat to Odo masquerade celebration in Neke. Christians from Neke see
traditional practices as idolatry, fetish, diabolic and devilish. They seek
to destroy, at the slightest opportunity, the materials used by this
masquerade institution. Also, the regular conversion of these traditional
worshippers to Christianity has led to the abandonment of the
masquerade institution. Even its secrets are now divulged by former
members who claim to have moved from darkness (Odo worship) to
light (Christianity). Christianity also has turned the hearts of many
young people who are supposed to succeed their ageing members away
from this indigenous practice.
ii Modernity: In a world of rapid change in structure, civilization and way
of life, Odo worship and practices are highly threatened. In a bid to be
modern, traditional houses are being renovated with modern building
materials, thus detaching them from their original functions and values.
Young people see the traditions of the forefathers as archaic and
backward. White collar jobs and search for “greener pastures” are also
taking them far away from their traditional abode, thereby reducing the
importance they attach to these traditional practices.
iii. Abuse of Power: Another major challenge facing the Odo worship and
practices is the abuse of power. Men hide under the cloak of Odo
worship to intimidate women. They also use this opportunity to extort
money and other valuable property from strangers or even uninitiated
men. The evil ones among the adherents have been observed to use evil
powers in dealing with their enemies, some of them using sicknesses,
others through various curses, and some others through death. This
abuse of power is a major challenge and reason for the decline in Odo
worship and practices in Neke.
Prospect of Odo Masquerade: The Tourism Option
According Andah (1980) tourism entails the mobilization of a
people’s cultural and natural resources, especially those aspects which make
people unique and spectacular from other people. By cultural resources, one
may refer to those Rich material and non-material attribues acquired within a
given society and transmitted from one generation to another (Okpoko,
Journal of Tourism and 92 Heritage Studies
1990). Among them are festivals, beliefs, dance, diet, architecture, wood
working, metal working, stone working, law etc. There are some other
cultural resources which may appear as artifacts of different kinds,
monumental buildings and shrines, etc. that form part of cultural resources.
There are others which because of their importance in society have been
recognized as part of culture. These include features and landscapes of
historic value. Most of these cultural resources form centres for tourism /
tourist activities.
The central point of Odo masquerade institution, from the purview of
tourism development, is the festival associated with it which people from far
and near come to witness. Mention has been made of the outing ceremony of
the Odo, both the returning and departure ceremonies, which are
commemorated with elaborate festivals. On such days, people from far and
wide are invited and entertained lavishly. Photographs of these masquerades
are also taken and the music recorded and stored in various forms. The mask
photograph and images are of great importance to tourists, especially as
souvenirs. Of great tourism importance are the houses and grooves of Odo
masquerades. Ekechukwu (1990) asserted that archaeological sites, historic
sites, museums and monuments, sacred groves are part of cultural sites
which help in the promotion of Nigeria (tourism). Tourism can serve as an
avenue to promote, sustain and develop Odo masquerade festival.
Whitford and Ruhanen (2013) have argued about the importance of
tourism in promoting festivals in Australia. Festivals are seen as the
appropriate means of exhibiting indigenous culture, so as to create interest
and awareness in indigenous tourism. Festivals have attracted the attention
of both federal and state governments due to the various sociocultural and
economic benefits they offer rural communities and regional economies
(Moscardo, 2007 in Whitford and Ruhanen, 2013). Indeed, Odo masquerade
institution can offer huge economic benefits to tourism in Enugu. Odo
masquerade, being unique and seasonal, can form a ‘destination-image’ for
Neke town. Popescu and Corbos (2012) shared the same view when they
admitted that in Romania, festivals and events are used to get new grounds,
and organizers try to bring to Romania the ideas from abroad.
In addition, to help boost tourism development in Neke and
neighbouring towns, museums should be established in the area where the
cultural materials associated with masquerades will be preserved. Moreover,
the photographs, radio cassette/tapes and video cartridges of both the music
of the Odo and the masquerade itself should be kept in such museums. This
is very important when one considers the fact that Odo does not return every
year. Tourists and even indigenes in need of such materials can easily consult
such museums to satisfy their needs.
Odo Masquerade in Northern Igbo Land 93
To harness Odo masquerade institution as a tourism resource, the
organ directly responsible for planning, developing and transmitting
information about tourism like Nigeria Tourism Development Corporation
and Enugu State Tourism Board should be involved. Furthermore, other
government agencies like the National Commission for Museums and
monuments (NCMM) and other bodies involved in the conservation of
Nigerian cultural patrimony, especially museums, conservation and resource
management agencies etc. which are responsible for preventing, presenting,
and promoting cultural and material resources of Nigeria have a great role to
play. These bodies should help to modernize the public places and / or arena
where these masquerades perform by establishing standard amenities like
electricity, pipe borne water and health care facilities within the area of the
display of these masquerades. This can help sustain the interest of visitors in
Neke. By so doing, it will help attract not only Nigerians, but also foreigners.
Odo masquerade celebration in Neke is a cultural heritage that
predates the colonial era. With the advent of colonization and development,
Odo masquerade institution is under threat. The way and manner the
present generation handles the Odo institution is a threat to the masquerade.
The sacred forest that houses Odo paraphernalia is being cleared as a result
of population expansion and its attendant quest for more houses, road
construction, and the activities of over-zealous Christians, etc. It is an
institution that unifies the town, exposes evil doers in the town and corrects
errors. The outing ceremony of Odo was filled with festive activities that kept
the town agog during its hey days and this was appreciated by all. The
tourism potential of the masquerade is enormous. It can be repackaged for
cultural tourism to generate income for the host communities through the
inflow of tourists and visitors in the community. Its satirical speeches and
dances can be recorded and sold. It will equally place Neke town on tourist
map of Enugu and Nigeria at large. However, the way and manner it is
currently celebrated need to be reviewed. This is the only way tourism can be
looked at as an option that can help to revive and sustain this heritage, as is
the case in some other climes. The wind of development and modernization
blowing across Africa and beyond should not wash-off a once cherished and
celebrated cultural heritage.
Afigbo, A. (1981). Ropes of Sand: Studies in Igbo History and Culture. Ibadan:
The University Press Ltd.
Journal of Tourism and 94 Heritage Studies
Agbo J.N. (2002). Odo Cultism in Neke: End of a Pharonic Stronghold. Covenant
House Publishing, Festac Town Lagos.
Andah, B.W. (1980). Tourism as culture Resources: Introduction Comments.
An African Dimension. Special Book Issue Vol.20 West African Journal
of Archeology, University of Ibadan, Nigeria.
Aniakor, C.C. (1978). The Omabe Cult and Masking Tradition. In Ofomata
G.E.K. (ed.) The Nsukka Environment. Enugu: Fourth Dimension
Publishers.Pp. 286-287.
Basden, G.T. (1983). Among the Ibos of Southern Nigeria. Lagos: University Pub.
Ekechukwu, L.C. (1990). Encouraging National Development through the
Promotion of tourism: The Place of Archaeology. ,West African
Journal of Archaeology. Vol. 20. 1990.
Enekwe, O.O. (1987). Igbo masks: The oneness of ritual and theatre. Lagos:
The Nigerian Magazine. P.57.
Ezechi, J.C. (2010). Odo culture and Christian mission in North Igboland”
Possibilities and Impossibilities of Inculturation. An M.A. thesis
submitted in University Nigeria, Nsukka.
Ezenagu, N. and Olatunji, T. (2014). Harnessing Awka traditional festival for
tourism promotion. Global Journal of Arts Humanities and Social
Sciences. Vol. 2. No.5, Pp.43-56.
Meek, C.K. (1930). Ethnographical report on the peoples of Nsukka Division,
Onitsha Province. Lagos: Lagos Government Printers
Okpoko, P. U. (1990). The Role of Cultural Resources in Tourism Nigeria. In
B. W. Andah (Ed.), Cultural Resource Management: An African
Dimension. West African Journal of Archaeology, 20.
Onyeneke, A. (1987). The dead among the living: Masquerade in Igbo Society.
Nigeria: Asele Institute.
Popescu, R. and Corbos, R. (2012).The role of festivals and cultural events in
the strategic development of cities. Recommendations for urban areas
in Romania. Informatica Economica Vol.16.no.4.P.19-28.
Shelton, A.J. (1971). The Igbo-Igala Borderland. Albary: State of New York
Whitford, M. and Ruhanen L. (2013). Indigenous festivals and community
development: a sociocultural analysis of an Australian Indigenous
festival. Events Management, Vol. 17, pp.49-61.
Odo Masquerade in Northern Igbo Land 95