Alagba is a female masquerade, a water spirit that is female.
During a masquerade ceremony the Kalabari people of Nigeria perform dances in costumes that hide their identity. There is a seventeen year span of worshipping gods from the sea. Water has a lot to do with Kalabari life because we live on a series of islands in the Niger Delta. Only men can perform these ceremonies but women can watch when they are undertaken in public.
Alagba, when she performs, wears a large head-dress. This makes the dancers head so large that from a distance the performer looks like a child because his head-dress is proportionally so much larger than the rest of his body. Alagba has beautiful regalia; feathers, mirrors, Christmas tree balls, tinsel and Alu Bete blue. (A ceremonial cloth with animals and symbols drawn on it.) All these elements added to Alagba’s character of uncertainty and glamour are very endearing. Alagba’s performance also has an edge in that the performer has to be tested to see if he can understand the talking drum.
There is more than one Alagba performing when the Alagba Ti (the play / performance) happens. The details of tension, beauty and godliness are very inspiring and electric when remembering Alagba’s performances. Alagba has paddles in her hands rather like small cricket bats or flattened baseball bats. These are used to bang her anklets at certain moments during her performances. The dancer has to control a large head-dress, flowing regalia and to move around a spacious arena without showing that he is a man. Quite a task for any one to achieve.
Sekibo (a person who dances) is a sculpture that was made to lighten up the intensity of the masquerade characters that made up the show of Play and Display which I had in 1994 at the Museum of Mankind in London. Sekibo represents the men that are part of the secret society that both dance with the masqueraders and dress up as masqueraders. He is a link between the audience and the spiritual world of the masquerade characters.
l have always admired how Kalabari men can dress in a traditional outfit of tartan patterned skirts, Victorian night shirts with bowler hats and walking sticks. In this unusually stylish atire they jump and turn in the air following the masqueraders and keep the crowd back whilst sometimes also leading the masquerade procession itself.
I hope that together these two sculptures give the viewer a frame for, or a picture of, what a Kalabari performance is like.
- Dimensions: 227 cm high
- Materials: >Steel, feathers, wood and mirrors
- Housed: American Museum of National History