all photographs by the author unless otherwise noted

The Ukwa performance started when members entered the dance arena carrying their long swords. Most members wore red, black, and yellow sashes neatly fitted over their white long shirts (Fig. 1). Wrappers were elegantly tied around their waists. The warriors paraded in synchronized and choreographed motions, until suddenly breaking formation to engage in aggressive and combative fencing bouts. The duels gave way to the Ukwa version of Mkpókpóró, a masquerader dressed in a loosely hanging black gown, adorned with an animal skull on its crest (Figs. 2, 14). The ominous character moved fluidly as if floating from one direction to another. Mkpókpóró serves as Ukwa's emissary, clearing the dance arena for members and the next act: Okpon-Ibuot.

Loosely translated as “Mr. and Mrs. Big Head,” Okpon-Ibuot is a male/female pair of masqueraders known for their performance dramatizing the...

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