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Ogbom Cult

Olokoro, Umuahia. 1930s. At the confluence of Igbo and Ibibio masking traditions, a man proudly displays an ogbom headdress as he sits within his compound. The figure, clearly female due to the presence of large, pointed breasts, sits on a stool and carries a flat tray upon which rests a human head war trophy, which can be attributed to the popularity of headhunting as a martial sport amongst the Igbo of this region. Bangles and jewelry twist around the figure’s ankles and wrists, whilst three keloids are carved along its forehead and temple, denoting local facial markings.

The ogbom cult was a major religious and cultural feature in communities along the southern Igbo and Ibibio-Anang axes and it heavily emphasized and celebrated various facets of femininity and womanhood: not only were headdresses overwhelmingly female and large-breasted, at ceremonies and festivals initiated men performed masquerade dances in honor of Ala, the earth goddess, for her role in human and agricultural fertility and prosperity.

In the past, male masqueraders, bearing headdresses and disguised in cloth, parrot feathers and raffia, would dance alongside unmasked female singers and performers in harmony. However, today this tradition is in decline. In Olokoro, in particular, the headdress is no longer a feature of perfomances and male performers, no longer masking their identities, have ceased being supernatural beings. Ogbom in Olokoro was last performed in its full grandeur in 1952.



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