The University of Iowa University of Iowa

Art and Death in A Yoruba Community

by Norma Wolff
Professor Emerita, Iowa State University

Yoruba artist, Nigeria, egungun masquerade. Photo by Norma Wolff.

The egungun festival in the Itoko area of Abeokuta occurs at the end of the dry season and lasts seven days.  The festival celebrates the ancestors and their moral authority.  On the night before the festival, members of the egungun society gather in the sacred bush atop one of Itoko's rocky hills to sacrifice to Agon, the power of the collective egungun spirit.  Agon possesses a man who dons a long trailing cloth and goes through the town with drummers and dancers to call the Egungun spirits from the lineage compounds to gather in the bush.  The next morning, the egungun in the form of masqueraders begin to parade in the streets of the community.