Epa (Ancestor Helmet Mask)

Jagunjagun (Warrior)

By: Adenike Cosgrove Tagged:


Epa helmet masks are used to promote health and wellbeing within a community by celebrating and honouring ancestors, cultural heroes and important individuals (including mothers, priests, farmers, kings and hunters) within a village. Originating in Ekiti and spreading to much of North-Eastern Yoruba towns (including Owo, Efon Alaye, Igbomina and Ijesa), the bi-annual, week-long Epa festival acknowledges the roles these individuals have played in building a successful community.

Epa masqueraders perform slow, steady and controlled movements due to the huge and heavy masks they carry on their heads during performances. The masqueraders dance around the village and must jump on a raised mound to demonstrate their ability to maintain balance. It is believed to be a bad omen for the town (sometimes leading to misfortune) if the mask should fall of the performer’s head during the jump. When not in use, the masks are kept in shrines where villagers can pray to and provide offerings to ancestors.

The jagunjagun (also called ologun meaning 'warrior' or Ogun meaning 'god of war') mask represents ancestors of power with the ability to protect the community against external threats. It brings to mind energy, power and authority but is also a visual representation of past calvary that protected the Ekiti peoples during warfare. These masks are typically the second to appear (after oloko) during the Epa festival.

Distinguishing Features

Common features among all Epa masks:

    • Made of wood from the iroko tree
    • Whole mask carved from single piece of wood
    • Weight = 23 - 50kg
    • Height = 1.5 metres
    • Painted in red and blue
    • Janus faced ‘ikoko' helmet (believed to be the container of spiritual power 'ase’)
    • Helmet typically has two faces on both sides
        • One set of eyes open (looking at world of living)
        • Other set closed (looking into the realm of ancestors)
        • Bulging almond shaped eyes on helmet
        • Rectangular mouth
    • Elaborate figurative superstructure
        • Superstructure separated from mask by thick disk
        • Superstructure carvings in centre represent priests, hunters, farmers, kings, and mothers
        • Smaller figures can surround central figure (represent traders, musicians, hunters)

Sub-type variations (Jagunjagun - Warrior):

    • Superstructure depicts a mounted warrior
    • Central equestrian figure
    • Horse is disproportionately small compared with the figure mounting it
    • Hair on figure styled in the fashion of a hunter
        • Long braid extending down the back of the head
    • Carved necklace on figure
        • Represents red coral chief’s beads
    • Central chief figure holds a staff (opaga) in right hand
        • Can also be carved carrying a gun or fly whisk
        • Sometimes carved carrying a shield, in left hand, with human heads attached
    • Smaller figures may be carved surrounding the central hunter figure

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