Friday 21 June 2024

The Origin of Egungun/Masquerade in Yorubaland

Masquerades started in the olden days.

There was this particular woman whose husband had died in the thick forest where they both lived with their children. After the death and burial of the husband, the wife and children had to relocate to another settlement. Afterwards, life got horrific and horrible with the woman and her children.

They sought the advise of elders who in turn directed that they should consult with the oracle to show them the way out. The oracle after consultation directed that they should go back to the grave of their deceased father in the thick forest and bring his remains home. When they eventually  got to their fathers grave, they dug up the grave and found his bone remains which is referred to as “eegun or egungun” in Yoruba language.

The oracle further directed that the “eegun or egungun” should be totally exhumed and wrapped in colourful clothes and be brought back to their new home with big fanfare. That dead man bones is called Egungun also referred to as masquerade while the dead man “ara orun kinkin” is also worshipped in accordance to the directive of the oracle till date. Egungun is part of the Yoruba pantheon of divinities.

In the tradition of Orisa and ancestor worship, the Egungun represents the “collective spirit” of the ancestors. Ancestor worship or reverence is everywhere in traditional Africa and Egungun is part of this worship.

Ancestors assure a place for the dead among the living. It is their responsibility to compel the living to uphold the ethical standards of past generations. Egungun is celebrated in festivals (Odun Egungun) and family ritual through the masquerade or custom. In family situations a family elder or Alagba presides over ancestral rites and may or may not be initiated into the local Egungun society.

But in community settings, Egungun priests and initiates that are trained in ancestral communication, ancestral elevation work and funeral rites are placed in charge of invoking and bringing out the ancestors. Elaborate costumes adorn the Egungun masqueraders (dancers) and through drumming and dance, these dancers become possessed with the spirits of the ancestors.

The Egungun then spiritually cleanse the community and through exaggerated acting/miming demonstrate both ethical and amoral behavior that occurred since their last visit, exposing the strengths and weaknesses of a community with hopes of encouraging behavior more befitting of their descendants.

Once this occurs, messages, warnings and blessings are doled out to spectators. Some important Egungun include Oloolu, Alapansanpa, both of Ibadan land, Alamudu and Aladoko in Akure, Egemurege in Ado Ekiti, Omormo in Akokoland, Gbegbe in Iragbiji, Elewe of the Ìgbómìnà Yoruba sub-ethnics, which is common in the towns of Òkè-Ìlá Òràngún, Ìlá Òràngún, and Arandun.

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