By Mary Nooter Roberts
University of California, Los Angeles

Egungun Masquerade, Ilogbo, Nigeria

Photograph by Marilyn Houlberg, 1982

EEPA 2005-002-05048

Marilyn Houlberg Collection

Eliot Elisofon Photographic Archives

National Museum of African Art

Smithsonian Institution

Yoruba peoples, Nigeria, white couple masquerade. Photo by Marilyn Houlberg.

Masquerade as an art form is especially receptive to change, novelty, and innovation, for masquerade's primary purpose is often one of social commentary and consciousness-raising. Among Yoruba peoples, one masquerade satirizes a Western male/female couple. The couple is performed as part of a larger masquerade festival called egungun to pay homage to ancestral spirits, and the performance includes a large number of anthropomorphic and zoomorphic masks. The colonial couple stereotypes Western behavior and values. The man, in a double-knit polyester leisure suit with tourist-style hat, holds a pad of paper and a ballpoint pen, while the woman wears a floral print tailored dress over slacks, a “fashionable” purse, and a large wristwatch. Their open public affection and the male's impulse to write everything down express ideas about improper behavior and the perception that Europeans are associated with literacy and the primacy of the written word.