Otsa Festival

Otsa Festival

Between August and November
The Ekperi people of eastern Nigeria celebrate the annual three-day Otsa Festival to purify their land and promote community solidarity. Masquerade plays are held in which primarily male members of the community wear masks and colorful costumes. Women play the role of "mother" to each play, accepting donations to pay for masks and costumes required for the performance.
While the masquerades vary from village to village and borrow elements from other villages as well as from neighboring tribes, certain key factors seem to be common throughout the region. On Otsa eve, a giant figure named Umese, wearing a mask and clad in locally woven cloth, goes from house to house. This giant dances and sings and collects donations to pay for the coming masquerades. The first of the Otsa day masquerades is performed by young boys who wear ragged cloth masks and costumes that have been created by the village's elderly men. These costumes are said to contain "medication" that will protect the boys from harm and, in a larger sense, protect the village as well. Later masquerades feature performers dancing and wearing masks made from cloth or carved wood. Some performers dance on behalf of certain segments of the community, such as the hunters, and their headdress will reflect these concerns. A dancer performing on behalf of the village's children, for example, may wear toy dolls. Several new performances are added each year while others are dropped or revised. Some 30 masquerades are usually performed during the Otsa Festival.
CONTACTS:
Embassy of the Federal Republic of Nigeria
3519 International Ct. N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20008
202-986-8400; fax: 202-775-1385
www.nigeriaembassyusa.org/index.html