Egungun festival is celebrated and practiced by the Yoruba of West Africa and their descendants in the African Diaspora, particularly in Brazil, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Barbados and the United States.
Yorubas believe that Egungun is a visible manifestation of the spirits of departed ancestors who periodically revisit the human community for remembrance, celebration, prayers and blessings. These spirits constantly bless, protect, warn, and punish their earthly relatives depending on how their relatives neglect or honor them.
African Development Magazine crew embark on a journey to Ile Olororo compound in Itori oke, Abeokuta North, Ogun State Nigeria,. Where a large numbers of families showcase specific masquerade or mascot as the case may be, in festivals and carnivals.
The family of Pa Shomuyiwa was part of the first settlers in the community that believe in the uniqueness of the cultural tradition and the circumstances surrounding the origin of the festival which are full of mystique.
The appearance of Egungun in this community is invariably accompanied by pomp ,pageantry, drumming ,dancing, singing and celebration while the festival goes on for several days and strengthens the bonds that unite families and communities with departed ancestors.
Interestingly, the Egungun costumes are constructed of disparate fabrics, both locally woven and industrially manufactured, in addition no metal, beads, leather, bones, and potent empowering materials.
In the modern days their costumes are damask, velvet, silk, Indian madras, and printed cotton. The masquerade performances are often accompanied by the swirling of fabrics and colors, augmented by intricate body movements and carefully orchestrated dance steps.
According to Mr Olasunkanmi Shomuyiwa, a heir and a well-known Yoruba babalawo who inherited masquerades from his lineage stated that : all power in the world emanates from the greatest being, Olodumare. (The Almighty)
Olodumare that is known as the proprietor of eternal abundance, among many other acclaim names, holds all deep power and is the giver of all existence, he is the mystic distant origin of all things and is not identified by gender. All that exists, including preternatural godlike realities and reasonable world realities, are a piece of Olodumare.
As the highest almighty and originator of the universe, Olodumare is straight concerned in the affairs of the world through a complex center of sub-divinities called orisa.
The orisa is official godlike emissaries and assists as intermediaries between the people of planet and Olodumare. They are the main objects of respect and ceremonial duty. The names and figures of orisa changes according to nationwide and nearby practice, but they number in the hundreds. Some of them are more popular while others may be only venerated according to some localized practice.
Egunun festival is widely marked by adherents of traditional religion in Yorubaland with believe that their ancestors who died several years ago reincarnate, visit them and celebrate with them.
“We have 8 different masquerades namely: Omolaso, Gboran , Anikulapo, Ewele, Dagunro, Jagbanjakun which you can see the artistic painting on the wall of the family house’’
Whenever they come out, they appear in colourful apparel sewn together and speaking in guttural voices to give the impression that they are not ordinary human beings.
They bless their believers and followers. Egungun as they are always called do bring blessings to people both men and women that are childless, sterile, barren, sick or possessed of demons and are prayed for by the visiting ancestors (Egungun)
The religion clash & violence
In some parts of Yorubaland , Egungun festival is always a traumatic experience for residents. Instead of the fun and celebration that usually characterize the festival in other places, violence, looting, killing and maiming are the tales that trail the festival
Egungun festival celebration should be peaceful so as to promote our culture and heritage and to be accepted by many irrespective of the religious affiliation.
Our culture! Our heritage !! Our pride!!!
Photo-credit: Ifedolapo falana