Olojufoforo (Ancestor Mask)

By: Kathryn Cua || Adenike Cosgrove Tagged:


The oloyiya (meaning 'owner of combs' also called okyiya, or epa are) mask is a ceremonial mask worn by the Yoruba people. These masks are a type of Epa mask from the Ekiti province in Nigeria, used in week-long, bi-monthly Epa festivals to publicly acknowledge individuals who have played an integral role in building a village’s community.

By honouring important individuals such as ancestors, cultural heroes and other important figures, Yoruba people seek to promote the health and wellbeing of their communities.

Oloyiya masks are very rare because frontal masks are not typical in Yoruba art. Also, they can be found only in a small region of the country. These masks originated in the Ekiti province of Nigeria and spread to other areas such as Efon Alaye, Ijesa, Igbomina and Owo, all of which are northeastern Yoruba towns in and around the town of Osi.

In Osi, a similar type of mask exists called olojufofo, which translates to 'the owner of the deep-set eyes'. Olojufofo masks are used to honour Baba Osi ('father of Osi'), or the spirit of Osi in an annual festival called Ijesu. While wearing the mask, masqueraders also don a cape and carry fresh palm fronds. Olojufofo masks are unique to villages in the northeast region of Yorubaland, in which the Opin Yoruba clan live.

Distinguishing Features

  • Superstructure on top of face mask
    • Superstructure of seven wooden combs or kneeling female figures representing priestesses of Oshun, river goddess
  • Windows (square holes) located under the eyes for wearer to see through
  • Often painted with modern oil paints or with ground red ironstone mixed with water
    • Decorated with black, blue, white and ochre lines and dots
    • Mask typically washed and repainted before important feasts

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