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Fancy Dress: African Masquerade in Coastal Ghana

Author: Courtnay Micots


Abstract Fancy Dress is a lively secular masquerade performed on the coast of Ghana, West Africa. The majority of the young men and women who participate identify themselves as Fante, an Akan subgroup dominating the Central Region. Members from Effutu, Ahanta, Ga, and other coastal communities are also involved. In the early twenty-first century, Fancy Dress has become an integral part of local celebrations such as Easter, Christmas, New Year’s Day, harvest festivals, and members’ funerals. Fancy Dress street parading incorporates periods of intense dancing in front of chiefs’ palaces and hotels and in public squares. In the Winneba city competition, held every New Year’s Day since 1958, four performance elements—a “march pass” (similar to parading) and three types of dancing—are judged. Tailors, often group members, craft the patchwork costumes, paired with either a local mask made of cloth, wire mesh, or papier-mâché or a rubber animal or horror mask purchased in Accra or Takoradi or imported from North America and given to the members by friends and patrons. A headdress constructed of fiber, cloth, Christmas garlands, and/or mirrors may be added. Inspiration for Fancy Dress initially came from a European form of masked ball made popular during the Victorian era and performed by Europeans, Americans, West Indians, Brazilians, and Kru peoples (Sierra Leone) on the ships traveling the Atlantic. Characters were taken from images found in newspapers, magazines, and books; on product labels and posters; and especially in films. Fancy Dress as performance art demonstrates themes of hybridity, identity, popular expression, resistance, and unity.

This is an abstract of an article from the Berg Encyclopedia of World Dress and Fashion. The full article is available in the Berg Fashion Library.

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