AFRICANS CONCEPT OF MASQUERADES AND THEIR ROLE IN SOCIETAL CONTROL AND STABILITY: SOME NOTES ON THE ESAN PEOPLE OF SOUTHERN NIGERIA
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In every culture there are certain ideas explicit in the interaction of different elements which in turn sometimes act as an instrument of social control with which different cultural segments are held together. Prior to the spread of Islamic and Christian influences, most societies in Africa believed in a complex structure of spirits and ancestors who influenced the living. This was contained in the traditional belief which reflects the wholeness of the universe, i.e., the various elements of which constituted not only the living, but also the dead and spirits. Thus among the Esan, the Erinni (Elimin masquerades) are organic to their myth of creation. In this way, they function as the major stabiliser of the people’s destiny. As far as the people are concerned, they are ancestral spirits who periodically visit their living forebears in masquerade forms. Their visits are regarded as spiritual interventions to the world of the living and as a result are highly venerated. To the Ifeku-Ibaji, Egwu (masquerade) symbolised both the ancestral shrine as well as represented the resurrected spirits of a dead elder, whose appearance and performance played a protective and regulatory role in the affairs of the living. Specifically, it governed the laws which were irrevocable and punishable by death. In the Ejagham society of Cross River, the task of detecting witches and wizards rested with the Echi-Obasi-njom (the masquerade), it usually carried out this function in a wheeling, gliding dance organised by the society. Echi-Obasi-njom was usually accompanied by attendants as it swiftly moved round the settlement in search of witches and wizards in their hide outs. All over Yoruba land, the Egungun represent the spirit of the ancestors who have descended from heaven/ mountains. It celebrates a period when the dead interact with the living, as it is their responsibility to compel the living to uphold the ethical standards of past generations. The data obtained from primary and secondary sources were deployed to carry out the study in an analytical and narrative historical method. Findings indicate that unlike, the neglect of this practice in most societies (especially while the advent of Christianity and Islam), has led to an alarming rise in crime.
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