Egúngún! Power Concealed

August 31 – December 20, 2012

Spanning the west African nations of Benin and Nigeria, Egúngún are physical manifestations of Yorùba and Fon ancestors. When summoned by a secret society of initiates, Egúngún dance among the living to provide blessings, warnings, and counsel to the communities in which they once lived.

Egúngún masquerades entered the Fon kingdom of Dahomey from the Yorùbá kingdom of Oyo in the early 19th century, when Yorùbá women were brought into Fon families as slave-wives. Amazed by their extraordinary powers, the Fon King Ghezo welcomed Egúngún, and the secret knowledge that came with them, into his kingdom.

Each Egúngún masquerade is an earthly manifestation of the dead. When a member of an Egúngún family dies, local diviners consult the spirits to determine in what form the newly deceased will manifest. With dozens of types, and like the people they once were, Egúngún possess different personalities – aggressive, gentle, regal, or wild.

Today this spectacular masquerade has become a vital part of local culture and ancestor veneration practiced by Fon and Yorùbá peoples alike. During funerals, ancestral festivals, or the annual national Vodún celebration held each January, Egúngún leave the confines of their temples to dance among the living. During these moments, families overtly “perform” their wealth through the fantastic display of expensive cloth that embodies the Egúngún. Indeed, the ability to provide such elaborate costumes for their ancestors is visible proof of their ancestors’ favor and power.

Guest Curator: Timothy R. Landry, Ph.D.

Taken from actual museum wall-text, Krannert Art Museum, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (2012).