Egungun Festival

The Egungun Festival is a widely celebrated festival amongst the Yoruba people of Western Nigeria. The Egungun festival often takes place around the middle of the year between July and August and it is celebrated with much enthusiasm, funfair and festivities. It is widely believed that the Egungun festival brings peace, blessings and serenity to its host community.

The Egungun or better known as Masquerade in the English language primary function in the olden days was basically to entertain people and subsequently pray for the people of the Land. ‘Egun’ (short form of Egungun) is often referred to as ‘ARA ORUN’ which means ‘Heavenly incarnate’. It is also a Yoruba Masquerade carrying Ancestor Reference.


There are hundreds of masquerades found in the Yorubaland of Western Nigeria. It is demonstrated in the simplicity or complexity of their appearance and the analysis of their indigenous taxonomies. There are so many Egungun still in vogue while some others have gone extinct as there is nobody in the family lineage to carry it anymore. Here are some popular Egungun in Western Nigeria: Danafojura, Ajimogbodo and Awodagbese from Ogbomoso, Alapansapa from Ibadan and Feleru from Ilobu in Osun state amongst others. Ajimogbodo is that masquerade that sits in the air, it has a mythical power and can sit in a vague place.

The most intriguing and interesting part of the Egungun festival is the preparations, the cooking and the festivities which take place before and during the festival, the procession and the costumes known as ‘EKU’ being worn by the various Masquerades during their outings. The more elaborate the dress of the masquerade, the more it reflects its social power and prestige. The costume is composed of multiple layers of cloth lappets usually made from expensive and prestigious textiles like Aso Oke and others. It expresses the wealth and status of the family as well as the power of the ancestor. The costume also has a sculptured image on top of it representing the ancestral outlook.

It is often believed that these masquerade costumes are not just mere clothing ensembles but contain spiritual medicinal preparations which have a range of performative powers (ASE) which protects the carrier especially at a time when the transformed person is vulnerable to spiritual arrows (OFA). The carrier wears a particular sown outfit underneath the costumes, this serves as underwear clothing covering his face, thereby hiding his identity before wearing the main Costume ensembles.


Going more deeply, an Egungun society is readily made up of men and women whose family lineages have the ancestral right to present the masquerade. Men basically are the ones who do the masking, the women never wear the costumes, although they also have significant roles in the entire process. One of the roles of the women is the rendition and chanting of the Ancestral praise (ORIKI) and histories of the families during the procession accompanied by professional talking drummers.

At the annual Egungun festival, each of these numerous lineages is given a separate day and time to perform while the masquerade is accompanied by followers, a crowd and a team of talking drummers who play rhythmic dance beats. The Egungun dances to the various beats coming from the drummers and goes round the locality in a procession starting from its family house to the town and back to its family house where he puts off the ensembles which are stored in a safe place until the next performance of the following year.


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