by Kyantirimam Ukwen and Job Sehero, Jalingo.
Gbala is indigenous traditional performance/festival that is usually marked around July and September, to celebrate the fertility of land. It is a core tradition of the Ndola people of Taraba State, Nigeria, with few living in Cameroon. The vast majority of Ndola people are farmers living in mountainous and low land regions of Taraba State.
Gbala is a masquerade cultural performance/festival performed by men accompanied by drummers and indigenous women who use their mellow voices to harmoniously sing various and creative praise epithets and songs to and about the “Gbala” (Masquerade).
The performance itself is unique in each particular manifestation because it is not just a dance or festival but a performance that tells the story of their (Ndola) lives and what they believe in. Similar to many indigenous masquerade festivals in Nigeria, the Gbala (Masquerade) dance is not open to female spectators. Any female presence near the vicinity of Gbala meets with punishment – typically flogging by the masquerade.
Gbala itself also serves as an emblem that tells one about the identity of Ndola man; He believes in the utility of land as factor of production. The fertility of land is of prime importance since good yield is the ultimate aim of all forms of farming activity. The force behind the fertility of land and people is recognized and entreated to be benevolent on mortals. The celestial-terrestrial relationship in African world view is often a constant. The process of oiling the relationship is what culminates into Gbala festival.
On the non-sacred plane, it is sometimes performed in social events such as festive occasions marked by parades and sometimes entertainment, seminars, workshops or wedding anniversary. The outing often places emphasis on the indigenous values of the host community.
Before the arrival of the Sudan United Mission of North America and Germany who made contact with the Ndola people via present Kurmi Local Government in its headquarters in Baissa, Gbala performance was vastly practiced in all Ndola communities. Today, majority of the people are now Christians, few with Muslims and traditional.
Most of the adherents of the masquerade tradition relinquished their roles and embraced Christianity or Islam. Consequently, the popularity of Gbala institution is waning. The sacred aspects have been watered down and the social form it has largely adopted lack faithful custodians that will sustain it’s values for generations unborn.
It is an apt avenue to boost tourism through embellishments that will rekindle interest of the locals as well as tourists from all over the world.