The Ancestor behind the mask

Wonderlane-c4dd7cca
There’s a Christmas season that  I would never forget, maybe we would call it a scar, but then to some extent its a scar that reminds me of ancestral protection. 
 
We had traveled back to my hometown because as Igbos, in Nigeria, in the western side of Africa, we always go back to our roots at the end of every year, to connect with family, and get acquainted with the culture, language and lifestyle, in other not to be a natad person, just like my mom would always say. A natad person is a coined word for an indigene that stays outside the tribe and is not acquainted with the culture and lifestyle of the tribe, more like, someone who acts like a foreigner in his own abode. 
 
During this festive period, so many people fix their funerals and marriages in other to have enough attendees, since almost everybody would be home. I’m from a tribe where the number of attendees is a major part of a successful funeral, and marriage ceremony. 
 
I had gone to iyolo, a stream in my clan, with my cousin to fetch water, that day was the burial of a dignitary in my clan. I didn’t really know the man but from what was said, he was a traditional man. Masquerades are very important figures in African/Nigerian funerals let alone a traditional man. Many African cultures believe that masquerades represent the ancestors while some believe they are gods.  
 
I was at iyolo, standing by one of the big rocks and waiting for my cousin to fetch from the mouth of the stream. I was a city boy, and there was this privilege attached to it, even though I still went out of my way to participate in activities that my mates did participate in my clan. It wasn’t mandatory for me to participate like it was for others, but I did participate in them anyway because I am someone who really loves culture and I find so much love and identity and in cultural activities. 
 
I was standing and watching everybody in the stream do their thing, some washing their clothes and some waiting in line to fetch. In what looked like a blink of an eye every other person in the stream kept quite and took off into the bush. This act threw me off balance, I was totally confused. I was still 10, and I didn’t really know my way around the bushes. I mean, I knew the roads but the bushes? I didn’t, if I had grown in the village, I definitely would. I didn’t understand what was going on. 
 
My heart fell into my stomach when I turned to know what caused the temple run, and behind me was a masqurade, all the hairs on my skin stood, and that was the first day I hugged betrayal, because why didn’t they tell me that a masqurade was behind me? I had seen betrayals as an African child, the normal betrayals where your parents tell you to go and pick up your footwear and you come back to see that they have left you behind.
 
When the masqurade reached and saw how much I was shaking and the liters of tears that had dropped from my eyes already, I was very scared, it was as if I was in a faceoff with a spirit, my head started swelling, I would open my mouth and close them, I’m certain that the masks of a masqurade were designed to terrify whoever is an enemy. I wasn’t an enemy but I was beyond terrified. Some of the masks were meant to be beautiful because some of  masquerade connotes beauty. On the other hand, some are sinister and are feared whenever they make an appearance and the later are the types that show up during funerals. 
 
Masqurade is called mmanwu in my local dialect which Etymologicaly goes as The word “Mmanwu” also pronounced as “mmuonwu” in Igbo means “spirits of the dead”. It is the combination of two Igbo words “mmuo” which means spirit and “onwu” which means death. This refers to the purpose behind Mmanwu which is to create physical representations of spirits and ancestors through the adornment of the masks.
 
I had known this and I grew up knowing that masqurades are spirits. 
 
I started praying when the masqurade tapped me, and spoke in the most calmest way, in the most assuring way, which was opposite to how I thought a masqurade would sound. Thunderous and frightening, but he spoke in my dialect. 
 
“Nna, ụjọ atụla gị” 
 
Which translates as 
 
“Boy, don’t be afraid” 
 
I felt like one of my ancestors spoke to me, Because it was very assuring, I didn’t just hear him, I felt each word, I felt him, I felt that when every other person would betray me, my ancestors would come through for me and protect me. 
 
I nodded my head and cleaned my tears 
 
Then I watched the masqurade leave, with his bell dangling behind him. 


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