The Spirit of Ancestors
Belief in ancestors is one of the core doctrines of African traditional religion. The Yoruba people of Benin republic believe in life after death, and the re-appearance of the ancestors in the physical corporal world happens through Egungun.
Egungun, which date back to the 14th century, is a ritual performance dedicated to ancestor worship that incorporate dance, singing, drumming, chanting, masking costumes and recitation.
Masquerades, who represents the spirit of the ancestors, are completely covered by elaborate costumes made of richly brocaded and highly symbolic tapestry-like fabrics. Brightly coloured textiles are added to these big garments from year to year and no part of the performer body is to be seen.The costumes with their numerous layers of vividly coloured cloth, embroidery, leather, animal skin, shells and beads, and their architectural headpieces and masks, completely obliterate the human form. It’s through concealment of the human body that the spirit is revealed. In the Yoruba culture such elaborate costumes represent social power and prestige and its believed that the more money is spent procuring the most lavish and exquisite costumes for their ancestors, the more power and blessing is received from them.
Such beautiful work of art are preserved and stored in sacred places, away from public eye, and safe from all external negative tendencies. Costumes are worshipped with rituals where animals are sacrified and their blood poured on them to retain their power. It is during the performance of the masquerades that these beautiful costumes reach the full potential.Masquerades enter in a state of ecstasy when they perform and their anonymity is of the upmost importance in the Egungun. Once wearing the costume, the performer stop to be himself and become the ancestor.
Egungun are celebrated in festivals and family rituals and their society remains a highly secretive organisation with its own temples that are barred to all but members of the society.