Egungun (Ancestor Headdress)

Eleti (Elephant)

By: Adenike Cosgrove Tagged:


Egungun headdresses (not masks as these sit ON the head and not across the face) are used in conjunction with elaborate masquerade textile costumes to honour ancestors and to celebrate the positive influences of ancestral spirits on the community. During the annual festival (Odun Egungun), which can last up to 17 days, it is believed that the masqueraders become possessed by ancestor spirits with the aim of visiting their families and loved ones before journeying back to the spirit world.

The egungun eleti headdress (meaning ‘one who has ears’) is worn by masqueraders called egungun erin (meaning 'elephant') referring to the large size of the mask but also to the high social standing and wealth of the owner, his commitment to the community and to his ancestors.

Egungun headdresses originated in Oyo but has since spread to other regions of Yorubaland include Abeokuta, Igbomina and Remo.

For more, see the UIMA Art & Life in Africa article HERE on the Yoruba Egungun festival.

Distinguishing Features

    • Carved from a single piece
    • Almond-shaped eyes
    • Pierced circular holes for pupils
    • Two incisor teeth sometimes carved protruding between lips
    • Large upstanding ears
    • Gangan talking drum carved between the ears
    • Ado medicinal gourds usually crown the head
    • Animal (iyabawomi) clinging to the back of headdress
    • Broad beard carved along the chin
    • Scarification marks across the cheeks and forehead

Share this