Art and Death in A Yoruba Community

by Norma Wolff
Professor Emerita, Iowa State University

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

The owner of an egungun ode manifested in its gentle form may choose to elaborate it by attaching the mask head to a tray (ate) with additional carvings or medicines are affixed.  The carvings may be added serially so that the mask becomes increasing intricate through the years. Such a masquerader (egungun alate, "owner of a tray") is greatly praised for its elaboration. Egungun ode Gbamgbose, named for its owner, is of the egungun alate type.  This masquerader is admired for both its mask and for the quality of the cloth used in the costume, particularly the embroidered panels in the front.  The attached carvings tell the audience much about the owner, who, it was said, is "a proper hunter."  Two hunters are depicted with their distinctive clothing - one on each side of the tray.  Animals, such as the leopard, are depicted to show his hunting skill.