Maristella Okpala, Miss Universe Nigeria, was awarded the Best National Costume award at the just concluded Miss Universe 2021 pageant.

Okpala strutted down the runway in a costume inspired by a “Mmanwa”, a traditional masquerade of the southeastern tribe of Nigeria.

Mmanwa is a female masquerade costume designed for ceremonial and festive purposes to celebrate Nigeria’s rich Nigerian cultural heritage paying close attention to women’s strength.

The 3ft tribal mask costume made by Filipino designer Kennedy Jhon Gasper using African beads, stone & craft features a colourful ancient back cape.

Explaining the reason behind her costume choice, Okpala wrote on Instagram, “Mmanwa is a female masquerade costume that’s designed for ceremonial and festive purposes to celebrate the rich Nigerian cultural heritage paying closer attention to the strength women possess.

The 3ft tribal mask with the colourful ancient back cape. With Mmanwa’s Face boldly crested on the mask and cape. It represents the beautiful Mmanwa who fought tirelessly to stop girl child mutilation and child slavery while the colorful patterns and embellishments portray the African dashiki which offers a visual appeal and forms meant to invoke the ancestral spirits.”

Okpala noted that she picked this particular costume because she could see her “self-reflection” of her cause in the Mmanwa which was to protect children and women against any form of abuse.

“Finally this costume pays attention to the strong will of women in attaining whatever height they want to attain, no matter the challenges faced while reaching their desired goals.”

This is Kennedy Jhon Gasper’s second time creating a costume for Miss Universe. Last year, Cameroon’s Angele Kossinda walked Gasper’s lion-inspired costume on the Miss Universe stage.

Taking to Facebook to express his happiness Gasper shared “Thank you Lord! Hindi pa rin ako makapaniwala talaga .umiiyak ako kanina habang kayakap si mama..Thank you sa lahat ng mga bumati!”

(Thank you, Lord! I cannot believe it. I cried earlier while hugging my mama … thank you to all who congratulated me.)