Ijele masquerade

Inscribed in 2009 (4.COM) on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity

Country(ies): Nigeria



Ijele masquerade

In many communities in the state of Anambra in south-eastern Nigeria, celebrations, burial ceremonies and other special occasions during the dry season to evoke fertility and a bountiful harvest feature the performance of the Ijele masquerade. The mask is about four metres tall – so large that it takes a hundred men six months of work to prepare the costume and build an outdoor house to hold it before a performance. Divided into upper and lower segments by a large python at the centre, the ijele is constructed of colourful fabric on a skeleton of bamboo sticks and decorated with figurines and depictions of every aspect of life. The towering masked figure dances at the culmination of a series of other masquerades, protected by six ‘police’ and carrying a mirror with the power to draw in and punish evildoers. Ijele mask carriers, chosen by ballot, seclude themselves for three months, during which they live on a special diet to acquire the strength necessary to don the mask. The masquerade plays a number of important roles in the community: spiritually, it marks both festive and solemn occasions; politically, it provides an opportunity to reaffirm loyalty to a chief or king; and culturally it provides a popular entertainment as young boys and girls sing and dance to the tunes of Akunechenyi music.


Decision 4.COM 13.63

The Committee (…) decides that [this element] satisfies the criteria for inscription on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, as follows:

  • R.1: The Ijele masquerade includes songs, music, dance, social practices, rituals and events concerning nature, and is recreated and passed on to younger generations by the communities as a symbol of their beliefs, identity, continuity and the interaction of human beings with nature;
  • R.2: Inscription on the Representative List will contribute to reinforcing the visibility of intangible cultural heritage and promoting its importance at the local, national and international levels, increasing respect for the political, spiritual, social and recreational significance the element embodies;
  • R.3: Measures to ensure the element’s viability are proposed by the Government and the communities that are committed to safeguarding it, supported by financial and administrative resources;
  • R.4: The support of the State for the nomination is complemented by the consent of the communities and practitioners;
  • R.5: The Ijele Masquerade is inscribed on a national inventory of intangible cultural heritage.



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