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Ijele as a Structure

The Ijele masquerade, native to the Idemili-Nteje-Nsugbe axis of Igboland (in what is now Anambra State) is the largest known masquerade in the world.

Ijele masquerades serves numerous social functions and marked successful harvests in addition to performing at the burial ceremonies of dignitaries of both male and female gender, titled men and women, and kings.

These masks, towering several feet high, represent the progressive nature of human life. The numerous flags, poles, ribbons and figurines on these masks were modifications that were made to the original and ever-expanding structure of the mask over a period of several decades. In today's modern perspective, the adaptive nature of Ijele masks, and their ability to evolve to maintain relevance, represent the evolution of Igbo society and culture.

Determining the bearer of the masquerade was an extremely competitive exercise. In order to develop the strength needed to bear the tremendous weight of the mask, contestants would engage in strenuous physical activity, while being placed on a restricted diet and abstaining from sexual intercourse for a period of three months.



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