Africans In America

Egungun Festival of Nigeria’s Yoruba Ancestors

Chief Modupe Opeola (third from left), head of the Yoruba Kabbalah Ogbe Ate House which is the temple that hosting the Egungun Initiation and Celebration September 2009. Oakland resident Brenda Hudson (4th from right), Egbedokun and Elebiti, chief Egungun Priest in Modakeke.

“Ato” (left) and Egbedokun singing to the masquerader in preparation for the procession and Elebiti.

Elebiti (in green) and Egungun masquerader is being led from the temple beginning the procession. The man in Blue is the head of Egungun worshippers in the Ile-Ife city of Nigerian.

The Egungun is a secret society among the Yoruba people of Ibadan, Oyo, and Modakeke, Gbongan Osun State, Nigeria. The major Egungun festival takes place in June, when members of the society come to the market place and perform masked dances. The masks represent ancestral spirits. It is considered dangerous to see any part of the man who is wearing the mask. The dancing masqueraders have their own drummers and entourage of chanting women and girls. The festival climaxes with the appearance of Andu, the most powerful mask. It is believed that the spirits of the deceased possess the masqueraders while they are dancing, and although it promotes a feeling of oneness between the living and the dead, the festival also inspires a certain amount of fear.Part I By Kayode Gbadebo

This column is an attempt to inform and educate on Ifa/Orisa spirituality with an understanding that belief and faith is a personal journey. We would probably cross the spiritual aisle in our discourse on faith or belief across the world. The Egungun (Ancestor) festival is usually organized collectively when the spirits of the ancestors share physical fellowship with relatives on earth. In many communities across Yoruba land, Egungun festivals last variously between seven to 21 days. Egungun spirits may be called upon from the Ojubo (hallowed ground) whenever needed for divine intervention. Every community is involved in Egungun worship since everybody has ancestors in the great beyond. Men are generally more exposed to Egungun mystery than women, and secrets are usually restricted to members. Egungun rites may be celebrated either formally or informally, but usually formally in matters dealing with the whole communities. Women may be initiates of Egungun mystery and are not to divulge the secrets of the cult. Women earn titles like Iyamode, Yeyesorun and Ato. Ato is an initiated member of the cult. Every female child born with her cord placed on her chest like Atori (whip) is called Ato. Ato could also be a child born with the membrane covering her head like mask. If a male, he will be called Amusan. The third child of a triplet is naturally called Ato. Odu Oturupon Meji claims when a man dies the corpse is buried, but the spirit joins the ancestors to become Egungun. Egungun is clothed from head to toe revealing no part of the body just like a corpse. Next: Yoruba belief in life after death.

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