Egungun, in the broadest sense of the word, refers to all types of Yoruba masquerades or masked, costumed figures. When used in its more specific, common sense, “Egungun” refers to the Yoruba masquerades connected with ancestor reverence, or to the ancestors themselves as a collective force. The singular form, for an individual ancestor, is Egun.
Classification of Egungun types
The classification of Egun or Egungun types, which might appear to be a fairly straightforward task, is in fact an extremely complex problem involving the comprehension of indigenous taxonomies. The difficulties include: the problem of distinguishing between personal Egun names and generic terms for types; the problem of determining “sets” where one masquerader may be regarded as within several type categories simultaneously; the practice of “layering,” in which a masquerader wears one costume type over another and changes these during performance; and the variety of criteria used to classify Egungun as well as the range of variations within type categories. Such factors demonstrate the complexity attending the analysis of indigenous taxonomies and the classification of masquerade types. These same difficulties arise in the definition and use of the term Egungun itself.
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Amongst the Yoruba, the annual ceremonies in honor of the dead serve as a means of assuring their ancestors a place among the living. They believe the ancestors have the responsibility to compel the living to uphold the ethical standards of the past generations of their clan, town or family. The Egungun are celebrated in festivals, known as Odun Egungun, and in family ritual through the masquerade custom.
In family situations, a family elder known either formally or informally as “Alagba” presides over ancestral rites. He may or may not be initiated into the local Egungun society. In matters that deal with whole communities, Egungun priests and initiates who are trained in ancestral communication, ancestral elevation and funerary rites are assigned to invoke and bring out the ancestors. They wear elaborate costumes in masquerade. Through drumming and dance, the Egungun robed performers are believed to become possessed by the spirits of the ancestors, as manifested as a single entity. The Egungun spiritually clean the community; through the dramatic acting and miming of the robed priests, they demonstrate both ethical and amoral behavior that have occurred since their last visit. In this way, they expose the strengths and weaknesses of the community to encourage behavior more befitting of their descendants. When this performance is completed, the performers as Egungun give messages, warnings and blessings to the assembled spectators.
Important Egungun include the Oloolu and Alapansanpa, both of Ibadanland. Elewe of the Ìgbómìnà Yoruba clan, which is common in the towns of Òkè-Ìlá Òràngún, Ìlá Òràngún, and Arandun, is also of particular prominence.
In Brazil, the main cult of the Egungun is found on the island of Itaparica, in the State of Bahia. Houses of worship dedicated to the Egungun also exist in other states.
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TYPE OF MASQUERADES
The word “Eyo” also refers to the costumed dancers, known as the masquerades that come out during the festival. The origins of this observance are found in the inner workings of the secret societies of Lagos. Back in the days, The Eyo festival is held to escort the soul of a departed Lagos King or Chief and to usher in a new king. It is widely believed that the play is one of the manifestations of the customary African revelry that serves as the forerunner of the modern carnival in Brazil. On Eyo Day, the main highway in the heart of the city (from the end of Carter Bridge to Tinubu Square) is closed to traffic, allowing for procession from Idumota to the Iga Idunganran palace. The white-clad Eyo masquerades represent the spirits of the dead, and are referred to in Yoruba as “agogoro Eyo” (literally: “tall Eyo”).
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Recalling the history and importance of one of the greatest masquerades in Ibadanland, the head of Aje family where the Oloolu masquerade originated, Chief Raheem Oyerinde, disclosed that their great forefather, Ayorinde Aje, who was a warrior along with Ogunmola, Ogbori-efon, Ibikunle, Oderinde, Oderinlo went to fight in Ogbagi in Akoko, Ondo State and Oloolu was a great war masquerade in that town and was so powerful such that no one could confront him during the war.
”Nobody could defeat Oloolu during that war but it was, Ayorinde Aje that fought him and removed his regalia and costumes, before he was brought to Ibadan as a slave. During his stay in Ibadan, there was famine, ill-health and crisis in the land and all the elders and chiefs were looking for a way out, that was how Ayorinde Aje suggested that Oloolu should be used to carry the ritual to appease the gods, so immediately he carried the ritual, there was rain and everything got back to normal in Ibadan. Oloolu helped Ibadan to be what it is today. Since then anybody that is the head of the Aje family becomes the custodian of Oloolu masquerade.
Any area in Ibadan where the people try to fight the Oloolu anytime he is out, such areas will continue to experience bloodshed, and that is what is happening in Opopoyeosa area till date, because they tried to beat Oloolu there sometimes ago. Oloolu is so great that he gives the barren children, he provides for the needy, he prospers business among other good things he can give to an individual who is ready to serve him”
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In time past and presently many politicians seeking elective positions have started coming to seek Oloolu’s assistance for victory at the polls, adding that their wishes are always granted once they can also fulfill their promises.
It is worshiped by Olosa-Oko family in Idi-Aro area of Ibadan. According to the Chief Security guard of all masquerades in Ibadan, Chief Ojetokun Areweyo, it’s a he-goat that is used to appease the gods to decide whom to carry the masquerade.
“I have been carrying this masquerade for over 16 years. It was nine of us that wished to carry him but I was the youngest among them all and I was later chosen to carry it. Its significance is that it gives the barren children and they usually come back the next year for thanksgiving. The materials used for ritual before its outing includes; vegetable oil, beans cake, corn meal, kolanut, he-goat, dry pepper among others” he said
Areweyo disclosed that it is forbidden for any woman to move closer to the masquerade or hug him, if not she will be barren forever.
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Speaking on the features, and importance of the Alapansanpa masquerade, its former custodian Asimiyu Ogundeji stated that the Ogundeji family is responsible for the worship of the masquerade.
According to him, the Alapansanpa masquerade was used in the past to fight and win many wars in and outside Ibadan.
“This masquerade is a renowned one and it’s importance to Ibadan cannot be over emphasized. It comes out once in a year, June to be precise, and it must go to the Olubadan palace where he whips the Olubadan with his whip three times before the Monarch will now bless him with gift and other items. If he doesn’t go to the Olubadan Palace, there will not be peace and prosperity in the land and that means the Olubadan is a bad person”
Ogundeji listed items that are used for its rituals to include Kolanut, bitter-kola, plam oil, salt, ram, cornmeal, among others.
He said its costume is very unique because it is very smart on him and it’s full of shades of red and black.
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On the taboo attached to this masquerade, he said:” No woman must enter his power house and if any woman enters his power house during mentration, such woman may die or may be barren for life”
This is a load carring masquerades, mostly followed by women. A family elder known either formally or informally as “Alaagba” presides over its ancestral rites. He may or may not be initiated into the local Egungun society.
A priests and initiates who are trained in ancestral communication, ancestral elevation and funerary rites are assigned to invoke and bring out the ancestors through the pouring of alcoholic drinks with kolanut. They wear elaborate costumes for the masquerade masquerade.
It comes out in June of every year, and it spiritually cleanses the community; through the dramatic acting and miming of the robed priests, they demonstrate both ethical and amoral behavior that have occurred since their last visit. In this way, they expose the strengths and weaknesses of the community to encourage behavior more befitting of their descendants. When this performance is completed, the Alaagba gives messages, warnings and blessings to the assembled spectators.
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Atipako masquerade always carry on his head stones, mortar and pestle which portrays it’s significant for blessing the masses and the land.
This masquerade is very popular in Okemesi, Ekiti State, and it’s usually present in the Egungun festival of the Okemesi people. It is generally believed by people of Okemesi to have saved and protected them during the Yoruba inter-ethnic wars especially during the “Ekiti Paraapo” (an alliance with the Ijesha people) war.
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