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Linguistics and Igbo

A Sociolinguistic Appraisal Of The Language Of Masquerade (Mmanwụ) In Igbo Land: A Pericoma’s Ekere Mgba Music Example




The study focused on, “Ekere Mgba” song/music, a peculiar masquerade song made popular by Pericoma, this is an aspect of traditional songs/music and here looked at as being under oral literature. Most often, when this type of study is made, the researchers focus on the literary devices and performances. This study apart from looking at some of these devices focused on the language use by the group. The objectives include identifying the type of songs, and figurative expressions, ascertain if the language can be understood and how it is accepted by all. This study used purposive sampling technique to select songs that were analyzed. Also two theories were adopted and used in the analysis. These include; the Speech Act Theory and ethnography of communication. The findings of the study based on the songs analyzed show that the masquerade group use a lot of figurative expressions and proverbs in their songs. Most of the figurative expression used are enjambment, rhythoric question and repetition. The findings also show that most of their songs can be understood by both the initiates and non initiates. The effect on the people was also revealed since it gains wide audience by both the Igbo people at home and in diaspora. The study also found out that their language is peculiar as there is no other group that performs that type of music in Igbo land. Most of the songs played by masquerade group are community owned and there is no copyright but in theirs, there is, and is accepted by most Igbo people.



  • Background of the Study

Masquerade (Mmanwụ) and ‘Masquerading’ play an important role in the Igbo land and though different types of Masquerade, the belief in masquerade is the same in different parts of Igbo land. The fundamental belief is that masquerades are spirits. Atuenyi (2015) asserts that it is one of the mystical elements among Ndiigbo and African religions. It represents the dead ancestors and the legal System/societal control was built around this cult because the dead was suppose to be free from human faults like; lying, stealing, injustice and other attributes of mortals. Among the Igbo, Edeogu and Nneji (2012) emphasize the view held by Basden (1966) then, they affirmed that masquerades are useful for understanding symbols. In addition, these masquerades which function as tools for social control and in aiding local administration and more importantly in legitimizing the views and enactments made by the elders.

Masquerades speak in ventriloquial voice, thus suggesting that they are not humans but spirits of our departed ancestors/persons (Ajala, 2011). In line with this, Edeogu and Nneji (2012) observe that any troop of masquerade, be it Ijele, Agbogo mmuo, otu iche or any other masquerade or mmonwu is associated with the spirit world, and being from the weird land, they are above ordinary human beings but spirits that link the dead and the living. Since masquerades are not just mere symbols of the dead but the spirits, masquerade performances are not just a dramatic event or mere entertainment but convey some messages to the living (Julius-Adeeoye, 2013). They communicate and bring messages from the spiritual realm. Omego (2014) and Mesthrice (2000) point out that there are differences in language use and that men and women do not speak in exactly the same way, spirits and mere mortals speak differently. The masquerades communicate with the people in their different performances. As Anyebe (2015, p.579) affirm, masquerade performances are aspects of socio-religious continuum as:

The masquerade performance is a theatrical recapitulation of a psychophysical affective plane, directed by the living and actualized by the visiting ancestors. These are the activities… (and) a tradition necessitated by the unending need for plenitude to achieve communion between the world of the ancestors and the world of the living.

Thus, the masquerades through their performances, have communion and communicate to both human and spirits. Humans through their appreciation and gratitude relay through the masquerades their feelings to the spirit world. The masquerades are endowed with spiritual or supernatural powers (Ganyi, lnyabri and Okpiliya, 2013), and has the ability to relate with spirits/ancestors and human beings. Masquerades speak and sing in secret language and sounds and these can be understood by initiates or at times by other members of the community.

Masquerade and different masquerade group have some peculiar ways of communicating to the people various things. At times when communicating to ordinary people, the language usually are less technical but while communicating with the initiates, the language becomes technical and coded. In display and in actual performance by masquerades.  According to Ganyi & Owen (2015, p.432), what readily comes to mind are two-fold

  1. The socio-linguistic environment as well as the role tradition play in shaping consciousness and
  2. The centrality of the performance context as the experimental movement or avenue for the externalization of the ethno-historical potentials of the oral narrative repertory of a given society.

In this instance, the sociolinguistic environment which entails language use by both the masquerades and the audience/people are important. All these follow the people’s tradition and history. According to different African tradition, the masquerade being a spirit has enormous power and do not only speak in a special manner but can say what ordinary person cannot say. Stressing on this point, Oyah (2007, p.2) while citing Ezenwa-Ohaeto points out that some masquerades come out to salvage difficult situations as:

It is cultural tradition in my part of the world that when abominations becomes unbearable; when the truth must be told with great courage, the night masquerade appears… thus in my part of the world, sometimes the womb of the night is pierced by the guttural voice of the night masquerade in order to set a senseless practice right, sometimes the night masquerade must confront the ruler in order to point out the nakedness of his utterance; sometimes in time of extreme anxiety, the night masquerade must appear to talk… (p.2).

Thus masquerade do not only appear for mere entertainment or for performances but at times to talk to the people, to correct the ills in the society and sometimes to reveal the unimaginable and the hard truth. It suffices to state that masquerade talk differently at times from human being.

This may be due largely to the fact that masquerades are spirits and as such should have their own language which even though may be understood by all or the initiate of that cult. Wardhaugh (2007) attests that speech and or language used in different ways among different groups. Each group has its own norms and linguistic behaviour. Each group of masquerade have their peculiar ways of speaking and the music/songs from different masquerade group easily identify them. Some are economical with words, some use a lot of proverbs/idioms while others talk freely and may come out early to entertain. But even at that, their language use and utterances still differentiate them from other groups.

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Masquerade is an important aspect of the people’s culture especially in Igbo land and most importantly plays a significant role in the African Traditional Religion. It is the link between the living and the dead/ancestors and may equally be assumed to speak the language of humans and the spirits. Studies had been carried out in relation to masquerades and their various functions in Igbo land but to the best of the knowledge of the present researchers, none have been carried out in relation to language use by masquerade and how relevant the utterances, poems, songs and other paralinguistic activities are to the Igbo society. After all, Anagbogu, Mba and Eme (2001) specify that the domain of sociolinguistics hinge on the way language attempt to adopt itself to the need of the society.

Different studies have been carried out to ascertain the efficacy of language use by different groups and other individuals in the society. Thus the language of Hip-Hop, the language of preachers in churches (Obuasi, 2013). This is sequel to the understanding in the view of Ogunjimi (2003, p.1) of the fact that, “the creative imagination and the use of specialized form of communication medium – language and style makes literature…” and in fact the language of masquerade a candidate for sociolinguistic studies. African oral literature is musical in nature (Boyejo, 2011) and through masquerade performances, utterances, songs etc. Ibrahim & Akande (2000) opine that “the private and public awareness given to both the individual and the society through the exposure of the hidden or open truth that the people seem to be ignorant of”. Enendu (2014, p.262) in line with this narrates,

In a typical night, for instance, in an Igbo… community, families have their senses of thrill and excitement aroused when the night’s peace is pierced by the harsh and sonorous voice of fearful, night masquerade (Mmanwu Abani) combine with the simulated roaring lion. Even without prior notice, the audiences — woken from slumber — then set up and listen to a long night of song and music accompanying the exposition and lampoon of the evil deeds and the “-anti-social acts of people in the community.

Through this means, be it at night or not, the masquerade discharges one of its duties of social control in Igbo land. A sociolinguistic study may not be interested in the music but will definitely be interested in language use and what makes the utterance of the masquerade captivating to the audience.

In Igbo land, masquerades are traced and or owned by either the community or by individual. But whether a masquerade is owned by the community or by the individual does not diminish its status and importance in the society. Some masquerades talk, while others do not talk except through the music, utterances and songs of their followers. Pericoma and his masquerade music named, Ekere Mgba is one of the famous masquerade performing artist known within and outside Igbo land. The music got prominent not just because of the lyrics but due to the songs, utterances and other paralinguistic features therein in his music and performances.

The present study is sociolinguistic in nature and focuses on assessing the language of Pericoma’s Ekere Mgba music. The study aims at sieving out the songs, utterances and other communication strategies that are characteristics of masquerade performances in Igbo land. This is with a view of finding out the efficacy of the language use on the audience(s) and other people that listen to the music.

  • Statement of the Problem

Among the cultural practices of Igbo people and indeed the people of Africa which have not gone into extinction since the advent of Christianity is masquerade and masquerading. Even when the cult is affected in some communities, it only helps refine its practices to suite contemporary exigencies and Christian tradition. Even among Christians of Igbo origin, most of them are not quick to disperse the tradition of masquerade and masquerading and infact in some churches, masquerade activities are incorporated in some of their activities. On the other hand, among Igbo people that practice the African Traditional Religion (ATR), they see masquerade as a practical manifestation of spirits and their ancestors in the land of the living. They see the masquerade as a messenger and an intermediary between the living and the dead, between the living and the spirits and more importantly as agents of social and political control.

In this direction, Benita (2014) while re-emphasizing the view of Enekwe (1987) reports that Igbo masking societies serve many functions. They help to stabilize Igbo societies and cultures by presenting hereditary rights, regulating conducts and entertaining the people. It is also a training ground for youths and adults and above all provides a bond of union that transcends kinship not only within the community but also between it and others in which masks exists. These enormous tasks cannot be accomplished without appropriate language use by the masquerade and their cult members. The performance of such functions which include administration of justice and subsequent jurisprudence according to Igwe (2011) cannot be effectively discharged without appropriate language.

However, despite all these functions/attributes of masquerade, Nwosu (2010) discloses that masquerade and other cult activities in Igbo land were derogatorily perceived by Christian missionaries as paganism. Nwosu went ahead to ask probing questions and avers that the question that quickly come to mind becomes, what awaits the cult and other masquerade group in this new order? Would Christianity and these cults benefit and enrich each other if some efforts are made in cultural dialogue?

In what seems to be a reaction to the above question, Pope Paul VI (1967) reasons:

Many customs and rites once considered being strange as seen today, in the light of ethnological science, as integral parts of various social systems, worthy of study, and commanding respect. In this regard, we think it profitable to dwell on some general ideas which typify ancient African religious cultures because we think their moral and religious values deserving of attentive consideration Nwosu, (2010:14).

The Pope went further to state that his opinion is predicated on the fact that these customs are equally spiritual view of life. Masquerade and indeed African/Igbo spiritual ways of life actually need to be respected and studied. The area of study should not only focus on the masquerade performance but on the vehicle on which it relays its message and thus communicate to the people at one hand and to the spirit world on the other side. The language of masquerade therefore should be studied. The language of masquerade finds its way via proverbs, idioms, figurative expression and sometimes through paralinguistic features, the masquerade communicates to the people the message it wishes to pass on to the community or an individual.

Most work that focus on masquerade in Igbo land and elsewhere had focused on their performances, as a means of social control and other traditional functions. However, to the best of the knowledge of the present researcher, none had focused on the language of masquerade. All these studies stated also focused on communal/community masquerade and not on those from other group and individual, hence the need to investigate a privately owned masquerade group — Pericomas Ekere Mgpa Music. The present study is a sociolinguistic one and thus
focuses on not just the language of masquerade but on the effect of “the language use” on the society (Igbo people). 

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1.3   Purpose of the Study

The main aim of this research endeavour is to carry out a sociolinguistic assessment of language use/masquerade language as exemplified by Pericoma’s masquerade group. The specific objectives of this study include;

  1. To identify the type of song, poem, figurative and other expressions therein in Ekere Mgba Music.
  2. To identify the paralinguistic strategies used by the group in the course of their performance which communicate to the members of the audience certain facts.
  3. To ascertain if the language used by the masquerade group in the course of their performance is understood by both the initiates and non members.
  4. To ascertain the effect language use by the group has on the audience.
  5. To find out if there are certain language/utterances which are peculiar to this masquerade group.
  6. To find out the extent the language of Ekere Mgba is accepted by Christian Religion and in contemporary Igbo society. 

1.4   Research Questions

  1. What type of songs, poems, figurative expressions etc are seen in Ekere Mgba music?
  2. Are there some paralinguistic strategies that communicate facts to audience which are observed during Ekere Mgba Music?
  3. To what extent are the languages/utterances used in Ekere Mgba Music understood by both the initiates and non members?
  4. What effect does the language used by the group evoke or have on the audience?
  5. To what extent is the language used in Ekere Mgba Music peculiar to them?
  6. What is the level of acceptability of Ekere Mgba Music by Christian faith and others?

1.5   Significance of the Study

The study will be of immense benefit to experts in linguistics, literary world and those interested in oral tradition. This is because the study is the application of linguistic/sociolinguistic tools in the study of oral literature. In specific and clear terms, the study will be of significance to those interested in oral literature, linguists, educationalists, artists/poets in traditional societies, masquerade groups, Christians, opinion leaders in Igbo land.

The study is the application of sociolinguistic tool in the study of oral literature. In view of this, it is a boost to oral tradition and to the study of oral literature. According to Benita (2014), most cultural activities and oral literature in general contain the germs of rich poetry and prose, excellent music and lively drama but they have not been raised above their traditional level. However with sociolinguists, Anthropologist and literary researchers are showing sufficient interest, oral literature and oral tradition will be better off for it. The study of masquerade songs/music which hitherto was exclusive area and reserved only to the initiates of such groups is even a greater boost to oral tradition and literature as it will open more door in the study of oral literature.

Linguists and educationalists have a lot to learn from the study of language of masquerade. The creative imagination and specialized use of different forms of communication are subject matter that should be studied by linguists and educationists alike. While linguists learn to look critically and ascertain the type of language that is being used in oral literature which in this instance is the masquerade language, educationists will direct the young mind to learn the rich cultural heritage of the people through the study of oral literature. As masquerade train (Enekwe, 1987) and expose the evil deeds in the society (Enendu, 2014), both the young and adult according to Ganyi & Owen (2015) are exposed to the sociolinguistic and ethno historical potential of the oral repertory of the people. Linguists and educationist through this study will expose to the language of masquerade and educate younger ones on the efficacy of the language of masquerade in socio-cultural affairs.

The study will also be beneficial to poets and other creative artists in oral tradition. Through this work, these groups will not only see the positive and the negative side of the songs and utterances analyzed but will also know that oral literature and the masquerade tradition of Igbo people have been brought to the public domain. This will be of immense benefit to them as they will prepare very well with lots of cultural display that will bring glory to their communities. This study will thus be a wake-up call for creative artists especially masquerade groups to perform better.

The clergy and the lay Christians have a lot to benefit from this work. The study will enable them understand masquerade and other traditional cults in Igbo land better. Masquerade and cult groups are agents of change and social control. They are involved in the preservations of the  cultural heritage of the  Igbo man. The study will thus through the analysis of masquerade songs. Bring out the  positive and negative aspects of their utterances. As Pope Paul VI has already advised that these groups be studied, Christians and church leaders will be in a better position to incorporate their positive values into the practice of Christendom. On the other hand, since the  church cannot perform the function of  being the agent of social control, or engaging jurisprudence. They should therefore see how they will work with the  masquerade groups in different communities to ensure that masquerade use refined language and  minimal force in the  discharge of their duties.

Opinion leaders, elders and title holders occupy a veritable position in Igbo land and thus can benefit from this study. Language is power (Akpuru-Aja, 2010) and a performative act (Ndimele, 1999). The power of language is enormous and even more pronounced when such comes from a reverenced cult group as the masquerade which are adjourned to be the mouthpiece of the spirits and sometimes the gods. The study has the potential of helping their leaders to re-assess masquerade performances, their language and their action to see that they conform to world standard without diminishing the importance of masquerade and other cults which engage in social control and administration of justice at the traditional level in Igbo language. They should through this study understand the importance of appropriate language use and enforce some on the masquerade groups.

Finally, the study will be beneficial to Pericoma’s masquerade group, other masquerade groups in Arondizogu and Igbo land in general. For the Pericoma’s group, they will see the analysis of their songs, poems, solo-performances and other communicative tools employed by them in addition to how they are seen, understood and valued by the society. This will help them not only to re-examine their language and other related communicative activities but also to know that whatever they say has something to relay to the public and thus affect their corporate image either positively or negatively. It will also help them to know if what they are communicating to the audience via their language/utterance is what the public understands from their songs and other performances. This will guide them in their future performances.

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1.6   Scope of the Study

This study is purely a sociolinguistic research and will focus mainly on language and other communicative strategies employed in Pericoma’ music and songs. Pericoma’s music is a private masquerade group in Arondizuogu and the subject-matter of this research.

The study is concerned with collection and analysis of songs, poems and other communicative strategies employed by the group and not only their general performance.

  • Theoretical Framework

The study, “a sociolinguistic appraisal of the language of masquerade in Igbo land” is a study that focuses not just on the utterances/songs but also on performances and the special relationship that exist between the speaker/sender and the receiver/hearer. Also, language is a performative act and since there is a complex relationship between language, music and performances, the first theory adopted in this work is speech act theory. The masquerades/speak the songs to the people and the need to analyze their utterances become necessary, due to this fact, the study also adopts the ethnography of speaking as its second  theory.

Speech Act theory was formally introduced by Austin (1962). Austin stated that in uttering things, one is not only saying things but also doing things. Explaining this further, Arnawa (2016) posits that a number of acts can only be done by saying things among such act is promising. Arnawa (2016) went ahead to state that the concept was further developed by Searle (1977) who explained that there are three acts in one speech act, the locationary act, illocutionary act and the perlocutionary act and these states the effect or impact of utterance to hearers. Thus in the act of speaking and or uttering something there are a lot of things or actions that are set in motion as described above.

While still on the structure Moeschler (2019) while quoting Searle & Vanderveken (1985) writes that speech act theory and more precisely, in illocutionary logic, which are all necessary conditions for the successful and non defective accomplishment of illocutionary acts. These components are according to Searle and Vanderveken, (1995) the illocutionary point, the degree of the strength of the illocutionary point, the mode of the achievement of the illocutionary point, the propositional content of the illocutionary act, the sincerity condition of the illocutionary and the degree of the strength of the sincerity conditions.

The structure and components of illocutionary acts makes it appropriate for the explanation and analysis of complex utterances/conversations and as such more comprehensive to handle songs especially masquerade songs. Based on this, Green (2016) observe that, “to delinate the subject matter of speech acts, it will help first to exposit a notion it presupposes. The notion speaker meaning, exemplified in situations that might be described in such terms as,

  1. In saying, “George is a little behind”, Lakshmi meant that George is slightly late.
  2. In raising his hand, the auctioneer meant that bidding is closed.

In case (2), speaker meaning does not require speaking or even using language but even at that, the state of the mind is made manifest.

Mainly “speech act theory is concerned with the diverse social act language users perform in making an utterance, i.e. communicative purpose of the utterance (Loko, 2018, p. 233) and related actions. Roy (2016) even observes that speech act theory can even be used to study pragmatics. Speech act theory can be said to be an appropriate theory for this study as it can handle the utterances associate by masquerade and its followers and other actions that convey meaning to the spectators.

The study also adopted the ethnography of communication/Hymes speaking model. According to Ray & Biswas (2011), ethnography of communication is considered a “qualitative method in the field of communication as well as cultural anthropology. It has been deciphered as a model of analyzing the use of language and communicative process. This model was put forward by Del Hymes (1977) who observe that six areas of the culture viz; speech community, speech situation, speech event, common communicative style and ways of speaking are all important in the model.

According to Matei (2009, p. 155),

Language and speech communities do not exist in a vacuum. That is why a functional perspective in the ethnographic analysis of communication is mandatory: we have to see how language behaves functionally not formally within society. The form of language is the one that might suffer alterations in accordance with the manner in which functions change within daily communication.

This model seen to be dynamic and appropriate for the analysis of speech event that is cultural in nature.

Furthermore, Marcellino (2010) state that the object of study which Hymes proposes for linguistic is, “ways of speaking”. The idea of language as a set of ways of speaking is an alternative to the idea of as a grammar, an abstracted set of rules or norms. Under the rubric of ways of speaking, Hymes offers a bipartite conception of speech that encompasses both the “means of speech” available to speakers, and the “speech economy: these speakers participate in. Hymes therefore offers a theoretical basis for language study that accounts for both linguistic variation from individual to individual and relative linguistic coherence across the social realm, while offering a methodological heuristic for investigating communication often represented in terms of the SPEAKING mnemonic.

For convenience according to Wardhaugh (2006), P. 245) Hymes uses the word SPEAKING thus,

The setting and Scene (S) of speech are important. Setting refers to the time and place… scene refers to the abstract psychological setting or the cultural definition of the occasion…The participants (P) include various combinations of speaker–listener,, addressor–addressee  or sender–receiver. They generally fill certain socially specified roles… Ends (E) refers to the personal goals that participants seek to accomplish on particular occasions. Act sequence (A) refers to the actual form and content of what is said… Key (K) the fifth term, refer to the tone, manner, or spirit in which a particular message is conveyed. Instrumentalities (I) refers to the choice of channel… Norms of Interaction behaviours and properties that attach to speaking and also to how these may be viewed to someone who does not share them, eg: loudness, silence, gaze return and so on… Genre (G) the final term, refers to clearly demarcated types of utterance, such things as poems, proverbs, riddles.

Above speaking mnemonics/models is a nice model that can be used in the analysis of utterances in different context. In this study, the two theories, speech act and ethnography of communication were adopted in the analysis of sung.

Pages:  224

Category: Project

Format:  Word & PDF

Chapters: 1-5

Material contains Table of Content, Abstract and References

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