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This is usually one of the happiest times of the year in my village, those who live far away from the breast of culture would find it hard to understand this.

See, masquerade festivals may not be your thing but I was born into it.

The masquerade festival is an annual ceremony in honor of the dead ,for it is believed that it serves as a means of assuring the ancestors a place among the living.

Ever since I was born it has always carried a regular pattern and naturally, I never imagined the story was going to change till one fateful evening.

I was fast asleep before my cousin “Eegunjobi” woke me up with two slaps screaming “Eegungbemi, Eegungbemi, wake up wake up, evil looms at our door step”, I jumped up quickly as he continued “our uncle is dead, he just refused to wake up this morning”. I couldn’t even begin to process the information right, for this is the same person who is to grace the masquerade costume in a few days time. So many questions sprung up in my head; who would carry the masquerade now? or would there even be a festival at all?… I soliloquized.

The burial rites were done as quickly as possible, the house was quiet, so quiet one could literally feel sorrow in the air.

Traditionally, the elders consulted the oracle as to who would carry the masquerade since the initial person chosen has met his rather untimely demise. To everyone’s surprise, Eegunyemi was chosen, No No, he goes by just “Yemi” and he is my step brother, the one who lives in little London – Lagos. I couldn’t help but giggle out loud, for my step brother doesn’t seem to show interest in any of this festivities. My father placed a call to him, informing him of the oracle’s selection and.. hmm mmhm… you guessed right, he turned it down immediately but I couldn’t help but overhear father warning him that if he doesn’t come down to perform the duty, he would never find peace.
Scary!! *knees knocking*

The preparations continued, every one thing needed to ensure a successful festival was procured; the day came and passed but Yemi didn’t show up. The whole house was filled with anger, not that anyone expressed but you could just sense it, the elders appeared to be calm and all they said was ‘if he doesn’t come for the masquerade, the masquerade will come for him’.

One calm evening, I sat with my father under the palm tree right in the centre of our compound as I sat with him while he ate, I brought myself to ask him a question that has been bothering me for sometime. Father, I begun calmly, what did the elders mean by ‘if he doesn’t come for the masquerade, the masquerade will come for him’?

My father smiled and said ‘well my child, its believed that one can never turn down a masquerade and if one dares to, after certain number of days it begins to haunt the individual just like a ghost, but it wouldn’t hurt except one decides to completely deny it’ .

‘but father what if…’

‘Young lady, you ask too much questions for your age, go do something girls of your age do’ He said, so I got up and walked away reluctantly, with a burning desire to know more but he wouldn’t indulge me.

Days, weeks and a few months passed, then suddenly one evening he showed up looking so worn out and all he kept saying was ‘make it stop, make it stop, I will do it’ he kept repeating these connecting phrases until everyone gathered round to see, hear him and affirm that he was indeed ready to take on the traditional responsibility. The festival was rescheduled to hold in three market days.

I snuck up to see my step brother later on and he did confirm having obnoxious confrontations with the masquerade spirit and how he was literally dragged back home with the clothes on his back, no extra clothing, nothing.

Proper preparations were made again and it was now two days to the festival.

I went to bed but as I kept trying to sleep my senses could feel the air had something strange in it, I thought I perceived something but my half asleep brain wouldn’t just process, in a little while though I caught it, its smoke. I jumped out of my finely weaved bamboo bed as I ran out of my mother’s hut and alas! the shrine was on fire, I hurriedly got the whole house up, everyone swiftly fetching a bucket, bowl or pan to get some water, they attempted to put out the fire, successfully, however, everything in the shrine had been gutted down except for one, the masquerade garment.

Who burnt down the shrine? Everyone apparently bewildered,no one confessed to the incidence, though the elders suspected it was someone from a different compound.

We all returned to bed but the loud screaming woke me up again and then I noticed it was almost mid day and I rushed out only to see my step brother running around the compound like a crazy man and screaming like he was being flogged, unknown to me, he was indeed being flogged by the masquerade spirit.

‘He burnt down the shrine’; Eegunjobi informed, as he kept laughing.

His mother came out wailing as she held her hands over her head as she begged the elders to appease the spirits but instead the elders watched on for a while claiming that until he learned his lesson the masquerade spirit will not stop punishing him. After about four hours of the incurred madness, it came to an end.

The next day, the masquerade came out gracing the town square colorfully,with my step brother finally accepting his ancestral calling.




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Mariam Alayande

Mariam Alayande is a writer and poet. She started writing at the age of 9. Some of her articles have been published in a couple of magazines and books and is increasingly gaining more recognition.

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