Egungun, Sango festivals and uniqueness of Oyo tradition, by Bode Durojaiye


“Egungun” denotes the specific masking tradition among the Oyo Yoruba where it is believed that the practice originated.

Egungun refers to the concept of the “powers concealed” and can relate to practices which work to both honor ancestors and gods, both of which are considered “beings from beyond.

Egungun” has been more explicitly associated with the honoring of
the ancestors in particular, the Egungun society and “a descendant’s commitment to continuing the traditions of his predecessors and
maintaining the reputation of his lineage.

In this way, the egungun tradition can be understood as masking
tradition which works to both honor ancestors and gods, whereas the
Egungun among the Oyo has been specifically linked to ancestor
honoring in particular.

Agba Egungun, not unlike paaka Egungun, are characterized by their
multi-layered, brightly colored lappets or strips of cloth with saw-toothed edging attached to a sculptural headdress made of wood and cloth but lacking the horizontal superstructure which characterizes the paaka Egungun.

The headpiece can vary greatly even within the Oyo region and can include figural carvings, such as human or animal forms as well as more abstract carved forms. Attached to the headpiece is a body suit which completely covers the performer and is most often made of aso oke or strip woven indigo cloth locally produced and usually hand

The cloth comprising the lappets is commonly a mix of imported cloths
from Europe, America and sometimes even Southeast Asia imported to and
sometimes produced for the African textile market.

Common fabrics include velvet thought in Yorubaland to be “the epitome of good taste” (aran tii pari aso) and damask considered “the royal, gold-threaded cloth that has a strong metallic sheen in
sunlight” (mosaaji aso oba tii tanna yanranyanran).

Other physical characteristics include a white and black knotted mesh face panel through which the performer can see, the use of medals, cowry shells and buttons to adorn particularly the area surrounding the knotted mesh, and the use of medicinal packets or amulets attached to the costume.

The masquerades’ construction, like the worshipping of the ancestor itself, is made possible through a wide network of family and community involvement.
While the ensemble is meant to honor the ancestor, it also speaks about the patron and family who finance the construction of the masquerade:

For the Yoruba the ancestral ensembles are designed to disclose the presence and power of the living dead and also the status and filial piety of the ‘owner’ of an egungun.

In this way, the ensemble reflects the wealth, status and alliances of a particular family telling us as much about the living as the dead it is meant to honor.

Odun Egungun festivals are held annually or biennially throughout the Oyo Yoruba area or as needed on important family occasions including a death, familial conflict or sickness. The festival involves not only the costume itself but dancing, drumming and singing or chanting of particular verses.

Just as many members of the community are involved in its initial
production, the community participates in the Egungun festival where
one or more Egungun will perform.
Masqueraders and drummers are exclusively men although women actively participate in the singing or chanting of verses.

The Egungun is a secret society among the Yoruba people of Nigeria.

A hereditary chief called the Alagba heads the society, which celebrates its most important festival in June every year for seventeen days.

However, this year’s egungun festival in Oyo town has been peaceful and colourful.

On the last day of the festival, cross section of the people will in large
numbers from the ancient town, including the Oyo-Mesi, Baales as well
foreign nationals from about ten countries, gathered at the palace of
the Alaafin of Oyo for the grand finale of the festival.

About 30 masqueraders in long, colorful robes usually gather in a grove not far from town and then arrive as a group to perform their dance in the palace.

Egungun Festival is part
of the religious practices of the Yoruba people of Oyo.

The Yoruba religion is based on oral traditions. Beliefs and practices are preserved by passing history, customs, and traditions from one generation to the next. Authority for interpreting events and establishing proper conduct of ethics and morals rests with a bureaucratic structure of rulers who function in both religious and
political realms.

According to the Alapinni of Oyo, High Chief Sheu Abdul Rasheed, ” traditional Yoruba belief all power in the universe
emanates from a supreme being, Olodumare. Olodumare, known as the owner of everlasting abundance, among many other praise names, holds all
power and isthe giver of all life. Olodumare is the mystical remote
source of all things and is not identified by gender.

“All that exists,including supernatural divine realities and natural earth
realities, are part of Olodumare’”.

As the supreme almighty source, the Alapinni stated that ‘’Olodumare is directly involved in the affairs of the earth through a complex core of sub-divinities called orisa. The orisa are authoritative divine emissaries and serve as intermediaries between the people of earth and Olodumare. They are the major objects of veneration and ritual

” The names and numberof orisa vary according to national and local custom, but they number in the hundreds. Some are more nationally known while others may be only venerated according to localized custom”.

Meanwhile, this year’s World Sango Festival will commence from August 17 to 26, 2022.

Venue is the ancient palace of the Alaafin of Oyo.

The International festival, which will attract foreign nationals from several countries, and eminent personalities across the country, is a particular and probably the most distinctive expression of the larger intangible heritage of Oyo town uniting all the forms of knowledge.

It is also one of the most ancient, traditional and major festivals of the Yoruba race.

As such, it encompasses all the range of techniques, skills, and crafts through which cultural values, customs, and traditions of Oyo people are manifested.

The aboriginal place of this traditional and cultural event is in the city of Oyo located in Oyo State in the southwest region of Nigeria, but it also takes place in others towns in Yoruba land.

Due to the expansion of Oyo territory, Oyo was once the capital of the Oyo Empire, one of the most remarkable and vast Empires of West Africa that ruled for over 600 years, imprinting its culture, language and traditions across the region, known today as Yoruba common culture.

The traditions of Sango and Oyo were also widespread to the New World, being preserved today in several countries in the Diaspora.

World Sango Festival is a social practice and festive events deeply connected to the social, religious, cultural and political
institutions in Oyo.

It is a key element for the maintenance of the city’s identity, unity among the people since immemorial times and the survival of the heart and the mind of the Yoruba culture.

It is the maintenance of coexistence with the ancestral world and nature.

The international cultural event will last for ten days and consists of intensive traditional and beliefs practices that accommodate many cultural features.


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