Art and Death in A Yoruba Community

by Norma Wolff
Professor Emerita, Iowa State University

Egungun Ijanjuku. Yoruba peoples, Abeokuta, Nigeria. Photo by Norma H. Wolff.

Egungun gbongun l'ada is an ijanjuku egungun whose name refers to the violent thrusting action of the ada (cutlass). It carries this weapon ready for action.  Red cloth with cowries encrusted to the strips and attached to its facial netting is evidence of its connection to Eshu.  The ijanjuku egungun is the particular enemy of witches.  The cutlass indicates that "he shows no mercy".  A flat crest mask worn by this masquerader rides on its upper back; with its load of medicines, it is too powerful to be in contact with the wearer's head.  The displacement of the mask is also pragmatic.  It is common to see egungun masqueraders toss their heads to move a crest mask to their backs so that it will not inhibit quick movement.