Updated: Jun 13, 2020
Udummiri, the season of heavy rains, dies down around the months of August and September and draws to an official close during late October or early November. In alignment with the climate of their region, most Igbo communities recognize the months of August and September not only as the end of their thirteen-month calendar, but also as the close of the farming season and the beginning of the harvest, a festive period of merriment and colorful occasions referred to in modern speech as the “-ember months”.
Masquerades throughout Ala Igbo (Igboland) play a crucial role in the officiation and closing of various traditional activities which take place during this time period. As supernatural beings, in many places they are entrusted with the task of foreseeing and predicting the end of the rains and marking the beginning of the harvest with their appearance.
Throughout Ogbaku, a town in modern-day Imo, Okoroshi, a genre of masquerades, perform for six weeks during the apex of the rainy season and bless the ripening yam crop in preparation for the Iri Ji, or New Yam Festival. Okoroshi of this type come in two varieties: those with white or bright masks are female and friendly and are believed to have descended from cumulus clouds. Female Okoroshi are called names like ‘Nwanyi Oma’, or beautiful woman, and are attended by “maidens” which happen to be males dressed in female costumes.
Their male counterparts with black or dark-colored masks are generally violent, poorly-dispositioned and are said to have descended from rain clouds. Male Okoroshi answer names like ‘Akpi’, ‘Nama’, and ‘Udele’, which translate to scorpion, bull, and vulture, respectively. Each year they entertain large crowds and dance to the tune of traditional music and poetry. Following their performance, they return to their homes in the clouds and prepare for the next year’s rains.
Region: Ogbaku, circa 1980s.
Photo: Herbert M. Cole