Art and Death in A Yoruba Community

by Norma Wolff
Professor Emerita, Iowa State University

Man preparing to perform egungun. Yoruba peoples, Abeokuta, Nigeria. Photo by Norma H. Wolff.

Before a man can put on the egungun costume, he must prepare himself by taking medicines and making sacrifices so that the ancestor spirit can enter his body.  This owner of masquerader is on his way to put on his mask and costume.  His pride in his role is indicated by the fact that his attendants carry a banner proclaiming the name of his egungun.  He carries an oshe shango (Shango staff) showing his connection to the powerful deity of lightning and thunder.  Empowering medicines that give him the ability to curse or bless the living are rubbed into incisions made in his shaved scalp.  The live eyele (Speckled Pigeon) tied around his neck will be sacrificed to ensure his success that day.  According to onlookers, the spirits are already with him – “anyone who looks will know he is already possessed by ijanjuku (the wild egungun spirit).”