Ekpe festival, peculiar to the Umuahia culture in Nigeria is a masquerade festival that is performed in the first month of every year, it attracts a large number of followings even among foreigners.
Every year during the festival, different masquerades in colourful and equally frightening costumes comes out to dance. Boys and girls dress in their cultural attires, and those youngsters newly initiated into the Ekpe masquerade cult who are well experienced in drumming would be allowed to display their drumming skills as masquerades dances gallantly to the admiration of the crowd.
Every year, a male goat is always sacrificed at the end to complete the festival rites, this is always the climax of the festival.
Before the Goat’s head gets chopped off, the ritual begins with the entry dance which leads the chief actor to his ancestral shrine where he obtains blessings for a successful day’s performance. The second dance movement is the climax of Ekpe. It marks the critical stage of the performance, and it is here that the chief actor’s role as a communal representative becomes clear. As the music changes from “aja” into a more frenzied type, a sharpened knife is handed to him. The chief guide admonishes him.
When the actor takes the knife, he moves round and round the sacrificial goat tied to a peg on the sacrificial spot trying to make a decision. He also performs an ancient sacrifice by their forebears during which a human being is sacrificed to the gods. After the chief actor has taken so many tours round the goat, he waits for the opportunity for the goat to stretch its neck, and then, when an opportunity comes, he takes a stance, swiftly move the knife and the sacrifice is done as the goats head is off the body.
Ekpe festival is also known to be one of the most popular festivals in the SouthEast. It has been practiced for over 156 years. Ekpe festival is said to originate from the Cross River area from the Qua and other related people. It should also be noted that Ekpe spread to what is now the Southwest province of Cameroon and other areas and spread west towards what is now Abia and parts of Imo and Ebonyi state, largely due to the old Aro Confederacy. ‘Ekpe’ means leopard and the many masquerades across the Bight of Biafra region, although differing in shapes and size, usually mimic the movements of the leopard.
Furthermore, Ekpe is not confined to a religion or ethnic group. It was originally used as a way of enforcing laws, now Ekpe is usually only used for festivals, although many people are still initiated into the society. Ekpe is strictly for Men and there are masquerades that women are barred from seeing, along with non-Ekpe indegens