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An egungun costume. Although costumes are not formulaic, they tend to be patchworks or collages of brilliant color. Red is dominant among the southern Yoruba.

The most widespread masquerade is the egungun of the Yoruba. Like all masquerades, the egungun is a multimedia performance designed to honor the dead, and a wide variety of masks and costumes are used to communicate with ancestral spirits. Ceremonies do not have a standardized format. Some masquerades impersonate the spirits of the recently departed, while in others the egungun entertain the community. The masker is not considered an actor, but rather the receptacle for a returning ancestral spirit; the spirit takes possession of the masker.

Egungun costume


Closer detail

The egungun costume above achieves its visually sumptuous appearance from large expanses of red, against which the motifs are articulated in bright primary and secondary colors and offset with cowry shells and sequins. Although beautiful as a static object, it is designed to function as a kinetic sculpture with the performance of the masker, when it gains power and presence.