The Iperi dance, which originated in the serene village of Odonto, Akweya, Akpa District of Otukpo LGA, Benue State, embodies a tale that intertwines with local culture and traditions.
It initially emerged as a casual pastime among young boys convening at the village square after dusk. The dance took its nascent steps in 1982, dubbed ‘Iyalogo.’ However, its transformation into Iperi and elevation to a structured group performance hold a captivating narrative.
In 1983, the narrative took a turn when a local police officer, Onyilo Adokwu, from Odonto, encountered a distinctive Tiv mask during his duty at a checkpoint in Zaki Biam, Benue State. Fascinated by its craftsmanship, he sought to purchase it despite only possessing three naira, while the trader demanded five naira.
As the situation tensed, invoking the threat of arresting the trader over missing antiquities, a deal was struck at three naira, enabling Adokwu to bring the mask home. The subsequent presentation of this mask to the village elders resulted in its official adoption as the emblematic mask of Iyalogo, rechristened as Iperi.
Originally a significant part of the “Mammy Water” masquerade and dance within the Tiv culture, the mask underwent a metamorphosis in Odonto, now symbolising the essence of the community’s identity.
Exploring the etymology behind Iperi, Chairman of the Odonto Community in Abuja, Mr. Bishop Ejeh, sheds light on its significance. He describes Iperi as an onomatopoeic expression, embodying the image of someone so satiated after a meal that their stomach protrudes—a fitting representation considering the local penchant for consuming substantial amounts of pounded yam. This practice is deeply rooted in the community’s history of laborious farm work, creating a physically robust populace.
Beyond their robust appearance, the residents of Odonto are renowned for their hospitality and unity, cementing their reputation as a harmonious and formidable community.
The evolution of the Iperi masquerade from a chance encounter to a cultural emblem underscores the interplay between tradition, identity, and community spirit within the vibrant tapestry of Benue State’s artistic and cultural landscape.
Odonto is a rural settlement on the outskirts of Adim, towards the southwestern fringes of Akweya in Otukpo LGA of Benue State.