Egungun Masquerade Costume



Egungun Masquerade Costume




20th Century


West Africa, Nigeria
Yoruba, Oyo or Ogbomoso


Fabric, plastic, glass, metal
64 x 60 in. (162.6 x 152.4 cm)

Object Number



In the broadest sense, egungun refers in the Yoruba language to any masked figure in which supernatural power is concealed. Among the Oyo Yoruba, and in other Yoruba areas which were once under their political domination, there is a specific masquerade complex also called Egungun which appears annually in the veneration of ancestors. Linked in oral traditions to Shango, the deified fourth king of Oyo, the Egungun masquerade tradition shares some of the symbols of Shango worship, including the color red, bata drums, and a historical connection to Nupe, a non-Yoruba kingdom to the northeast of Old Oyo.

Within the Oyo Egungun complex, there are many mask types. Colored fabric is used in the Egungun type known as paka or "children of Egungun." This ensemble costume consists of brightly colored stitched or appliqued strips suspended from a wooden horizontal frame. The dancer looks out through a piece of netting beneath the frame and as he whirls, the panels of cloth spin outward.

During the annual Egungun masquerade, spirits of the deceased return from orun, the spirit world, to visit their living relatives during performances held in private compounds and in public spaces such as streets and town squares. They appear before crowds covered in highly symbolic cloth that mediates the interaction between the living and the dead. For example, the bright appliqued panels that make up the outer layers of this Egungun costume represent the accumulated wealth of families. When a dancer spins, the numerous panels fan outward in a brilliant display conveying the ancestors' power. Metallic objects sewn to the cloth catch light, creating flashes that signal connections to the spirit world. Underneath layers of expensive imported silks, brocades, and other luxury materials, inner layers of locally woven indigo and white country-cloth remain concealed. Worn close to the skin, these are sacred cloths reserved for ritual, burial, and commemorative purposes. The two layers of cloth -- the visible and the invisible, the worldly and the sacred -- signify the re-union of the living and departed.

Credit Line

Ex coll. William S. Arnett


Art of Nigeria from the William S. Arnett Collection, Michael C. Carlos Museum, October 15, 1994 - January 2, 1995|
The Art of Collecting: Recent Acquisitions at the Michael C. Carlos Museum, Michael C. Carlos Museum, November 8, 1997 - January 4, 1998|
MCCM Permanent Collection Gallery, 2008 - March 7, 2013


© Michael C. Carlos Museum, Emory University. Photo by Michael McKelvey.
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On View



“Egungun Masquerade Costume,” Michael C. Carlos Museum Collections Online, accessed February 22, 2020,

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