4 Sep 2000
Masquerade as used in this article refers to what is commonly called ‘juju’. The ‘juju’ is usually the central figure in traditional dances. The ‘juju’ is always masked and its identity kept secret. It is believed to possess mythical powers and is usually revered by none members of the dance group. Some communities even bar women from seeing particular ‘jujus’ and in some instances convey the impression that jujus are superhuman. The mask wearer actually believes in the macho image conveyed on him. As a juju, he thinks he is invincible and should be feared. Here are two interesting stories about masquerades.
As a child, we used to organize ‘juju’ dance groups on Christmas day and go about begging for money. In one particular occasion we approached a young man we guessed was quite viable. We sang and our juju displayed all his skills but the man politely ignored us. Frustrated, we started singing a song that contained insults directed at the ‘ungrateful’ man. The provoked man grabbed a cane and charged at us. We ran in different directions abandoning our juju. We were confident that the ‘juju’ myth would deter the man from attacking our masquerade. The juju was even more confident. Our thinking proved costly as the enraged man descended on the defenseless juju like a beast. Poor juju! The boy was in pain but resisted crying aloud lest he be considered ordinary human. It was an embarrassing show especially for us. At the end of the encounter, we hustled our juju to a nearby bush, unmasked him and let the young man sob in the enclosed milieu of his comrades.
In the early nineties, Prince Charles of Great Britain had to pay a visit to the Botanic Gardens in Limbe (Cameroon). Many cultural dance groups were invited to grace the occasion. His scheduled time of arrival was delayed due to ‘reasons beyond his control’. In the interim the dancers used the waiting period to help themselves with some beer. When the prince finally arrived, the time was too short for all dance groups to display their skills. They were told to adopt a carnival style procession for the seeing pleasure of the prince. All the jujus, some already high on alcohol did their best to attract the prince’s attention. One particular juju had an advantage because of its height. This juju perching on two long sticks had all the aura of ‘patron’ of other jujus. Unfortunately for the entourage, the man perching on those long sticks had sipped more than the required dose of beer. It was not to be long before the tall juju missed his steps and came crashing down before the August visitor. The Red Cross people ran to his rescue but the juju handlers refused their help. Sweating with embarrassment, they tried some damage control, bundled the dazed juju and placed it on its feet again. A few more steps and down came the juju the second time. This time around the Red Cross was allowed to attend to the juju. He was after everything a human being. The myth was gone and his men were left to grapple with a public relations nightmare.
Africans are very good at creating a farce, turning it into reality and actually believing in it. It will take us quite some time to demystify some of these beliefs because we are essentially superstitious.
The Misadventure of Affe
Copyright ( Nov. 2000 by Njei Moses Timah
Njei Moses Timah [e-mail]