Art and Death in A Yoruba Community

by Norma Wolff
Professor Emerita, Iowa State University

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


This masquerader is called egungun okanke, a name given to a mask with two horns and an animal or, in this case, an acrobatic human figure between them.  The horns are a reference to Eshu and the power of the egungun to curse or bless the living.  An animal horn is used by each egungun masquerader to carry the medicine which gives him the supernatural powers of ashe - "the power to make things happen."  Like the ode masquerader, egungun okanke can be gentle in their behavior or wild.  This is the gentle variety, identified by the clean cloth of the costume and the neatly painted mask.  If it were ijanjuku it would wear old clothing covered with medicines like monkey skulls, cowrie shells, small gourds filled with ado (medicine), and charm bundles.