all photos by Onyile Bassey Onyile except where otherwise noted

The Nnabo society is an institution of the Efik people of Calabar, Cross River State, Nigeria. Formerly charged with martial duties, Nnabo masquerades today serve various functions—including spiritual protection and public performances to honor deceased members and the Efik Obong, or paramount ruler—while offering a visually rich display of heritage that speaks to a larger complex of masquerade societies previously found throughout the Cross River basin. Here, we address the lacuna in published sources about Nnabo by introducing the primary masquerade characters and their roles based on interviews with society members in Calabar.

Nowadays Nnabo highlights the warriorlike prowess displayed by energetic young men in their attempts to intimidate and frighten onlookers during public performances. That the masquerades seek to inspire fear is no surprise, considering their former roles among the Efik, which included warfare (Figs. 1, 5...

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