One of the things I have always found fascinating about our culture is the idea of masquerades as spirits. As a child, I was that told masquerades were spirits who crossed into the human world from the spirit world during special festivals. I had this picture in my head of a translucent world where everyone was a spirit and between that world and ours, a big golden gate which good people who die pass through and become spirits, masquerades, then bad people when they die become demons. So on special festivals, some of these good masquerades bless us with their presence and dance.
The only festival I remember seeing while growing up was the Okere Juju Festival in Warri. It was about a week long, people especially women, was asked to stay indoors. All electric bulbs on balconies should be switched off so that the people can perform their rituals in preparation for the festival. I also saw masquerades during Christmas and New Year celebrations, Sometimes, they chase us with canes so we have to part with some of our Christmas money, other times we just meet them dancing- and it was such a delight whenever I watched them danced and did all that acrobatics.
As I grew up, I discovered this good spirit, bad spirit story was untrue. People wore the masquerades, people are the ones dancing. Those very tall masquerades are a combination of 4/5 men, but I only saw them during festivals or big parties, you can then imagine my surprise when I moved to Lagos and saw masquerades every other day.
At first, I thought it was a month long festival, but every time I pass through Yaba market, there is someone in dark raffia-like cloth, holding a cane walking about. I soon discovered why they were always walking close to people, whispering in their ears- they were begging for money! I laughed so hard when I found out. I know they are special masquerades like the Eyo that people rarely see but who are these ones going about begging money untop ancestral spirits claims?
On my way home from my NYSC Community Development Service, CDS, meeting last week, one of the “ancestral spirits” walked up to me, he was holding a long stick, freshly plucked off a tree. “Hay Corper!” I continued walking, after all, my mother did not name me “corper.” ‘Corper, I dey call you come here,’ I hasten my footsteps while praying, “hay God don’t let this masquerade abi ancestral spirit flog me with that cane.”
I have no strength to judge case or trend hashtag. I just want to go home and sleep.
‘Corper you no wan answer me ehn? You no wan give me money wey FG dey pay una.’ He was now walking besides me. ‘Give me small thing, FG dey pay una big money, find something for me.’ It was like he was talking to himself, I didn’t even acknowledge he was there, I was just praying in my heart that he shouldn’t flog me with the cane.
I did not see any reason why I should give him money, he had two hands and legs functioning well, and I have been under the sun all day doing this FG corper work. Besides, I felt it was disrespecting of the culture for them to use the masquerade clothes to beg for money. So, when he asked me again, I sang in my head, lagbaja nothing for you… but was he going to trail me until I give him money, or worse flog me with that cane?
It was a man standing along the road that came to my rescue, “abeg leave the girl, how much dem dey pay corper? Na FG pikin no touch am o”
Yes! For once, I agreed I was a child of the Federal Government of Nigeria. FG pikin.
He seemed to consider what the man said, and he went away to look for his next victim. Phew. I have only one question to ask, Lagos people are these beggie beggie masquerades really the representatives of your ancestors?