MASQUERADE IN CHURCH: BETWEEN TRADITION AND MODERNITY

BY DONS EZE

Some few years ago, it was something unthinkable, something unheard of, that a masquerade would enter into a Church, much more inside a Catholic Church, danced, and was cheerfully received by an ordained Catholic Priest. That would be incredulous, unbelievable.

But that was exactly what happened in a Catholic Church in Adamawa State, a few days ago, during the silver jubilee celebration of a Reverend Sister, as was seen in a video clip currently in circulation. And this had set many people talking.

In traditional African society, masquerades were regarded as spirits manifest. They were the spirits of dead ancestors who came back to earth in a masked form. These could be fathers, brothers, uncles, cousins, etc., who long have died, but who returned to earth wearing masks, either to visit their family members, or to participate in some community festivals.

This long held African traditional masquerade system, was anthetical or against the Christian belief that the dead is either in heaven, or in hell. In other words, practitioners of Christian religion deny that the dead ever appear in masquerades, and they instantly proclaimed the masquerade system as devilish or satanic, while all those who indulged in such practices already had their places in hell.

Africans were told to severe links with their traditional system and to close their eyes on their historical past, which they said, never existed, or was ugly and nasty. They were told to discard the religion of their ancestors, which they said was fetish and devilish, sort of a mumbo jumbo. They were told to do away with their native names and begin to answer foreign names, the meaning of those names, they did not know.

This had created deep gulf, big division, between the African traditionalists, and the followers of the new religion that came from Europe. And the two sides would not see eye to eye.

In course of time, however, things began to change, especially since after the Second Vatican Council. The Catholic Church, in particular, began to see and do things differently. They began to relax some of their old and orthodox ways of doing things. They came to realize that God could understand all languages and therefore, could be effectively worshipped in local languages at Mass, and not necessarily in Latin. They also allowed drumming and dancing in Mass, as part of religious worship.

In the same vein, the traditionalists woke to see that many things have changed following the invasion of the area by the Europeans, who came in with their culture, their religion, their language, their dressing code, their lifestyle, etc., which had altered the people’s old way of doing things. They saw that the rug had been pulled off under their feet, and that try as they could, they would never catch up with their past, to preserve or sustain their original culture, their old way of doing things.

Both sides then realized that since the old system could not be preserved in its entirety, and the new system could not properly fit into the existing environment, there would be need to find a meeting point between the two systems. In other words, since it was not possible to throw away all the old system, or to accommodate all that was brought in from outside, it became necessary to find a middle course between the two new systems, in such a way that none would be allowed to swallow or dominate the other. “A little to the right, and a little to the left”. They call it inculturation.

In the case of the masquerade system, while some traditionalists still hold on to their old belief that masquerades were spirits manifest, which could be practised with the use of charms and amulets, in order for them to perform magical wonders, some Christian adherents, not willing to totally severe links with their traditional past, however, see masquerades as useful agents of entertainment, something like Sancta Claus, or Father Christmas.

In our locality, we call these type of masquerades, “Monwu Obiagu”, (Obiagu Masquerades), which are different from the masquerades that operate in our villages.

“Monwu Obiagu”, parade along various streets of Enugu Coal City during Christmas, New Year, and Easter festivals, chasing people around. They neither wear charms nor amulets. They are mainly set out for amusement and entertainment. “Monwu Obiagu” solicit money for “pure water”, even from women!

The masquerade we saw inside the Adamawa Church, in a video clip, could be likened to “Monwu Obiagu”. It was set out only for entertainment. It might not have worn any charms nor amulets, but a normal part of any outstanding ceremony, be it religious or social, in a traditional African society. So, there is nothing to worry about.

Dr. Dons Eze, KSJI

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