By Eileen Moyer
University of Amsterdam (formerly University of Iowa)

Yoruba peoples, Benin, Egungun talking drummer. Photo by Dana Rush.

During the ancestor’s appearance in Ouidah he conversed with a drummer playing a dundun (talking drum). The drum, acting as a mediator between two worlds, asks the ancestor to dance certain steps and the ancestor responds by performing as requested (Rush 1997). The tonal aspects of Yoruba language allow it to be represented through the tonal beats of a drum. The act of masquerade transforms an otherwise secular space into holy ground, while drums of Egungun announce the presence of the ancestors for all who are in hearing range and create an audible sacred space for those who recognize the meaning of the beat of the drum. In the case of Egungun, the mask is literally the "face" of an ancestor. Among Yoruba the word for altar can be interpreted to mean face (see Thompson) and as such may serve as a threshold between the world of the living and the spiritual realm. It is the mask that allows the spirit world of the ancestors to be manifested in the everyday world of the Yoruba.


Benin; Yoruba peoples. Egungun Masquerade. Video by Dana Rush.