Semester of Graduation

Summer 2023


Master of Arts (MA)


Art History

Document Type



Masquerade performances are prevalent in West Africa, but they hold particular importance among the Igbo of Southeastern Nigeria. This thesis explores the cultural significance and artistic expressions of Okunkpo masquerade at Afikpo, a sub-Igbo group in Nigeria. It demonstrates how Okunkpo has served as a mechanism of social control using humorous skits, storytelling and dance up to the 21st century. Okunkpo is an elaborate and the most attended masquerade performance at Afikpo. It appears only once in a year and is exclusively reserved for male initiates. Its popularity draws audience from far and near. As a community theatre, Okunkpo provides entertainment and showcases the cultural values and socio-religious systems of the community. The songs and stories in Okunkpo play reveal some aspects of the community’s history and norms that may not be told in an ordinary social gathering. Okunkpo does not only check deviant behaviors but also acts as a unifying force that strengthens social stability and harmony while providing a platform for self-reflection and group therapy. The research captures sorcery as an important aspect of African worldview. It points out how Okunkpo employs amulets as a power device to ward off any form of sorcery attack during or after performances. A critical examination of the Okunkpo masks, their symbols, functions and significance reveals the use of art to represent social reality. The study highlights Okunkpo as a living symbol of art and traditional wisdom. By focusing on the aesthetic aspect and cultural roles of Okunkpo masquerade, this research contributes to the study of African art history. Thus, it fills a gap in the existing scholarship on African art history and portrays Okunkpo as an important African masquerade performance that deserves more scholarly attention.



Committee Chair

Darius A Spieth

Available for download on Wednesday, July 31, 2024