Art and Death in A Yoruba Community

by Norma Wolff
Professor Emerita, Iowa State University

A dancer in praise of egungun. Yoruba peoples, Abeokuta, Nigeria. Photo by Norma H. Wolff.

There is some rivalry between the owners and lineages of the egungun erin masqueraders.  As egungun erin Ogunsijin enters the town it is surrounded by attendants who sing songs that abuse other erin masqueraders as "not as good as ourselves."  Skilled dancers also accompany the egungun.  In a trance-like state induced by drinking ogogoro, the locally made gin, a dancer such as shown here performs to please the egungun spirit.  He dances for praise and applause, not for money.  As befits an attendant of an important egungun erin, this "ogogoro master" wears a gown of alaari, red-dyed indigenous narrow-strip cloth.  Alaari is considered an important cloth in indigenous Yoruba belief because the red color is associated with the powers of deities and the ancestors.