Photo of the Week: Egúngún of the Yoruba people

Egungun, Osogbo – Eyes of a Lagos Boy (2023)

Egúngún /ēh.ɡoon.ɡoon/ (Eegun /ēh.ɡoon/ for shorts) is a significant and revered aspect of Ifa in Yoruba culture. Rooted in ancestral worship as for most Africans, Egúngún represents a rich spiritual tradition that holds great importance among the people.

The center of attraction during festivals, Egúngún are a visible manifestation of the spirits of departed ancestors who periodically revisit the human community for remembrance, celebration, and blessings.

Egúngún, which translates to “ancestors” or “spirits,” refers to both the masked performers and the spirits of deceased ancestors themselves. The Egúngún masquerades are elaborate and colorful, the appearance of Egúngún in a community is invariably accompanied by pomp and pageantry, drumming and dancing, singing and celebration with each mask representing a specific spirit. Members of the Egúngún society dance to marketplaces, town squares, ceremonies and festivals in their full regalia.

Egúngún Festival is a festival, which is celebrated annually and has been passed successively down to generations. “The festival goes on for several days and strengthens the bonds that unite families and communities.” It is believed to help develop trade and commerce and generally bond the people of Yorubaland together regardless of their religious beliefs.

The Egúngún masquerades serve multiple purposes within Yoruba society. They are believed to bring blessings, protection and guidance from their ancestors. The performances also act as a form of entertainment and education as they often depict historical events or moral lessons through dance, music and storytelling.

Egúngún originated within the Yoruba kingdom of Oyo, perhaps as early as the 17th century, and spread to other corners of the Yoruba region over time. Today, many Yoruba communities have an Egúngún society—made up of adult men and women and even kids (Tombolo) who represent the community’s lineages—that plans the appearances of Egungun masqueraders at funerals or other special family occasions, as well as at yearly or biennial Egungun festival

Participating in an Egúngún ceremony is seen as a way to connect with one’s ancestors and seek their wisdom. It is also an opportunity for the community to come together in celebration of their shared cultural heritage.

In recent years, there has been a resurgence of interest in the Egúngún tradition among both Yoruba people and those outside of the culture. This renewed appreciation has led to efforts to preserve and promote this unique aspect of Yoruba identity.

Overall, the Egúngún holds a special place in Yoruba society as a bridge between the living and the ancestral realm. It serves as a reminder of the importance of honoring one’s roots and maintaining a strong connection with past generations.

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