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Èdè Àyàn: The Language of Àyàn in Yorùbá Art and Ritual of Egúngún

Oláwọlé Fámúlẹ̀
University of Wisconsin-Superior
Kò séṇ í m’èdè Àyàn
B í e ṇ í m ú k ò ṇ̀ g ó ̣ è ̣ l ó ẉ ó ̣
No one understands the language of Àyàn
Better than the drummer who holds the gong in his hand

– Yorùbá maxim

From the Yorùbá oral historical, mythological, and ontological, abstract lines of reasoning, Àyàn is believed to be the rst Yorùbá drum maker and drummer, who, a er his death, was dei ed as the god of Drumming (Òrìsạ̀ Àyàn, or simply Àyàn). Hence, when an experienced Yorùbá drummer plays his drum masterfully, the elders with the drum speech discernable ears (òṃ òṛ àn) that hear the drumming, even from afar commend, “may Àyàn, the god of drumming prosper/ protect you!” (Àyàn ó gbè ó!̣)

As among other Yorùbá deities (òrìsạ̀ ) that live in the spiritual realm in certain but uncommon natural environments (forests, trees, rivers, streams, and mountains, among others),Òrìsạ̀ Àyànm is thought to reside in wood(Villepastour 2015, 3). For this reason, Òrìsạ̀ Àyàn is emblematized by the wood with which the body of the drum (ìlù) is carved. Similarly, this deity is eulogized as “the spirit who speaks out from inside his wooded abode” (Òrìsạ̀ gbé’nú igi fohùn), in reference to the log of wood with which the drums (ìlù) are carved. It is said that Òrìsạ̀ Àyàn particularly prefers that ìlù be carved with Cordia millenii (igi òṃ ò)̣ , a belief that gave birth to the Yorùbá saying, “out of the entire wood species of the forests is the preferred Cordia millenii, with which gbèḍ u drum is carved” (Igi gbogbo ní ńbe ̣ ní’gbó, k’átó ’gi òṃ ò ̣ gbé ̣ gbèḍ u). Because of his position as the patron deity of drumming, which by extension is used to accompanying sacred rites in honor of virtually all the Yorùbá òrìsạ̀ , Òrìsạ̀ Àyàn is thought to be their mouthpiece, as they all speak through the drums that he emblematizes. Another emblem of Òrìsạ̀ Àyàn that is even worshipped is a shallow hemispherical drum with a single xed head, which is worn on the chest with a strap around the neck and beaten with leather straps held in each hand (gúdúgúdú ) (Bascom 1952, 4). The gúdúgúdú symbol of Òrìsạ̀ Àyàn also goes by the praise name (oríkì) “gúdúgúdú with its distinctive uneven and undulated back shape” (Gúdúgúdú, ab’èỵ ìn jákanjàkan). The component parts that formed this uneven and surged-back shape [of gúdúgúdú] include kúseré and apìràn. Kúseré is a circular metal object af xed onto the drum’s wooded base, and apìràn is an array of wooden pegs that hold the kúseré securely onto the base of the instrument.

At the exoteric and practical level, Àyàn also refers to any Yorùbá traditional and professional drummer, who plays the drum (ìlù), o en with the use of a gong (kòṇ̀ gó)̣ . The Yorùbá professional drummers share the name àyàn with Òrìsạ̀ Àyàn since they are the human agents who play the drums (ìlù), emblem of Òrìsạ̀ Àyàn, and through which the deity speaks. The Yorùbá incantation “the day that the drummer drums with his gong/drumstick is the very moment that the Àyàn god of drumming speaks out that which is in his mouth” (Òòjó ̣ tí kòṇ̀ gó ̣ Àyàn bá f’ojú ba ìlù ni Òrìsạ̀ Àyàn ńpo ̣ t’eṇ u rè ̣ sí’lè)̣ best illustrates the interconnection of the drummers (àyàn) with god of drumming, Òrìsạ̀ Àyàn. As succinctly corroborated by Amanda Villepastour, “the drummer in action becomes Àyàn.”

Another Yorùbá term for a drummer (àyàn) is onílù.1 With their drumming (or drum music) that mimic the human speech, the Àyàn or Onílù verbalize words/speeches (òṛ ò)̣ that is or are intelligible to the ears of their patrons, o en the dance performers (oníjó). For that reason, ìlù, to the Yorùbá, is an instrument that acts as a speech surrogate (i.e., substitute). at the Yorùbá refer to ìlù as “the talking drum” underscores this assertion. In fact, they strongly believed that if handled by a skillful drummer (àyàn/onílù), ìlù, just like humans, can speak words or communicate e ectively to those who understand the language of the drum. The Yorùbá phrase “a lifeless goat that speaks just like a human” (òkú-ewúré ̣ tíí fo’̣ hùn bí ènìyàn), a euphemism for the goatskin xed singleor double-headed hourglass drums that mimic human speech when drummed, is a testimony to ìlù as a true “talking drum.” Another Yorùbá saying that illustrates that ìlù is an instrument of language substitution is “that the gángan drum could speak in a human nasal tone of voice is not without the help of the drummer’s own tip of the ngernails” (àti rán’mú gángan kò s’̣èỵ ìn èékáná).

In Yorùbá traditional festivals, ritual performances, and religious practices in general, the role of àyàn––whose drumming or drum music imitate and code the natural language (Yorùbá), cannot be overemphasized. The Yorùbá aphorism “without drum music, there is no way to celebrate” (láì sí’lù, taní jé ̣ s’eré òkúrùgbe!̣ ) is a testimony to the indispensable role of ìlù in the context of traditional Yorùbá visual and performance arts. A clear example is the Yorùbá art and ritual of Egúngún, the theme of this study. Paradoxically, many Yorùbá art scholars o en make very little or no e ort to explore the relevance of ìlù in their studies on Yorùbá visual culture, such as Egúngún. is has continued to make it become virtually impossible for a deeper understanding of Yorùbá art in particular and African art as a whole. Ironically, the same scholars prefer to invest their energy, searching outside of the art’s cultural origin to fulfill their primary goal of “appreciating” the African art, rather than searching within African culture, language and values, the very driving forces that gave rise to this art, and thus a catalyst to understanding it.2 It is on that note that I believe the question that scholars of African art should begin to ask themselves is: when will African art scholarship––unlike Western art studies that o en demand intellectual rigor and professional thoroughness––rise above its present art “appreciating” status vis-à-vis African art? In my opinion, as this present study is aimed at confirming, the understanding of African art critically requires that scholars be fluent or at least con dent in the reading, writing, and speaking of the language of the people whose art they study.

Also heightening the problem of the lack of “understanding” of Yorùbá art is the very unique nature of it (as with other African art), in which an isolated work of art in context is a rarity. us, the present study examines the very indispensable roles of Àyàn drummers in the performance context of the annual Egúngún festival (oḍ ún Egúngún) in a Yorùbá community in Òkèigbó in Nigeria’s Ondo State. As a native speaker with access to Yorùbá philosophy, values and history, and who is fully aware of the fundamental importance of language in African art studies, I aim in this study to examine the mutual relationship existing between the Àyàn and Egúngún from the vantage point of the Yorùbá language, the medium through which the said Yorùbá philosophy, values and history are stored and expressed. It delves into the very root of Egúngún within the Yorùbá cultural context, where traditions and history are preserved and recorded not in the western-type of writing, but rather in the Yorùbá language, ritual performance and ceremonies. It is hoped that this study will facilitate a deeper understanding of Egúngún along with the àyàn within the art and ritual performance context of the Oḍ ún Egúngún. The study illustrates the interconnection of the àyàn and Egúngún by rst providing an overview of Yorùbá drums and their ritual contexts. is is followed by a close study of the Yorùbá ontological concept of Egúngún, one of the most valued patrons of Àyàn (the drummers), as an important form of Yorùbá religious beliefs and practices. Using the E g̣ bé ̣ Òj̣ è ̣ (Cult of Egúngún) of the ancient Yorùbá town of Òkèigbó as a case study, the study concludes with an in-depth analysis of the role of Àyàn (Drummers) in Yorùbá art and ritual of Egúngún.

An Overview of Yorùbá Drums and their Ritual Contexts

Of all the Yorùbá traditional musical instruments, Ìlù (with single or double hourglass leather heads) are esteemed as the principal and most commonly used. The reason being that the ìlù can be drummed with or without any other additional instruments to emitting or producing a given and distinctive piece of sacred or entertainment melody or rhythm. Appropriate examples include the àgbá and àgèṛ è ̣ (also àgèṛ è-̣ ògún), the sacred drum rhythms of the cult of Ògbóni––whose members worship Ile that is personi ed by the Earth goddess, and Ògún, their on and war patron deity. What is the meaning of ìlù and why is it so important particularly in the Yorùbá traditional religion’s context? e Yorùbá word ìlù is formed from two morphemes / ì+lù/, which is the short form of “the thing which is beaten?” (ohun tí a ń lù) . However, the term ìlù applies strictly to the log drums that have singleor double-hourglass goatskin/leather heads. Hence, there are several other Yorùbá musical instruments that are played but which do not bear the name ìlù. Thexamples include trumpets (fèrè/kàkàkí), several types of gongs (agogo), and gourd/calabash rattles (sẹ̀ ḳ èṛ è)̣ that are rather called by their individual names, not ìlù. Depending on the types, ìlù are typically played by the àyàn or onílù with sticks/gongs/drumsticks (igi/ kòṇ̀ gó)̣ , the palm or st (àtéḷeẉ ó/̣
oẉ ó)̣ , and twisted leather thongs (oṣ án).

Ìlù can be placed into two main categories. In the rst category are some
distinct types of Yorùbá drums that are associated with the worship of òrìsạ̀ , as they are used speci cally in religious or ritual contexts. Hence, the term “drums for the deities” (ìlù òrìsạ̀ ) is generally used to describe these drums’ category. They are played by the drummers to produce or emit some distinctive individual òrìsạ̀ ’s drumbeat (or drum music). Thexamples include the ìgbìn, ìpèsè, àgèṛ è,̣ àgbá, èḳ ù (also àgbé), and bàtá. Belonging to the second category are the drums that are used both for secular and religious music. These types of drums are played exclusively by professional drummers called àyàn. Dùndún drums are one such type. The following contains a discussion of these types of drums.


Comprising of a set of four drums, ìgbìn “are upright open-ended log drums with single leather heads fastened and tuned by wooden pegs” (Bascom 1953, 3). They are sacred to Oḅ àtálá, the arch, superior òrìsạ̀ . at Oḅ àtálá is also called the great/superior deity (Òrìsạ̀ -Ńlá) leaves no doubt as to why he is regarded as “second in command to the Supreme Being” (Igbákejì-Olódùmarè).AnothernamethatportraysOḅàtáláasthemostseniordeity in the Yorùbá pantheon is “the chief/leader of all the òrìsạ̀ ” (Oḅ àtárìsạ̀ ). As his name implies, Oḅ àtálá is the ruler/god that is associated with white, which is a testimony to his pure/virtuous nature, persona, and attributes. For that reason, the devotees (especially the priests and priestesses) of Oḅ àtálá are distinguished by their use of the white cloths and opaque white beads. They also paint their uncovered body parts (especially the head, face, and hands) with white pigment (made from ground kaolinite). The four-drum set of ìgbìn comprises of ìyá-ìgbìn (or ìyá-ńlá), the largest in the set, along with the second largest is ìyá-gan (or jagba), as well as the third and the fourth smallest, keke and aféré, respectively. While the rst two (ìyá-ìgbìn/ ìyá-ńlá and ìyá-gan/ jagba) are o en played with a single stick and the palm or st, the two smaller ones (keke and aféré) are usually played with two sticks known as ìkeke-ìlù. Theach of the four drums is usually thick and squat and has three legs that are roughly carved out of the bottom of the drum on which they stand on the ground. at makes the ìgbìn drum set an àgbé’lè-̣ lù, as each ìgbìn drum is drummed/played while secured on the ground with its three legs. The carvers of ìgbìn o en carved relief figures and other bas relief decorations on the sides. The ìgbìn drum ensemble is played at the annual Oḅ àtálá festival.3

Figure 1: Ìyá Ìgbìn


Ìpèsè (also ìpèsì) is the drum ensemble of the ifá priests (babaláwo), which they play during the ifá festival (Oḍ ún-Ifá). The drums are also used at the burial rites of any of their members. The ìpèsè drum ensemble comprises of three drums, namely, ìpèsè, the largest in the set, which can be up to six feet tall. Aféré, next to ìpèsè in size, is about three feet tall but is wider than ìpèsè, and nally àràn, the smallest in the set. Other musical instrument in the set used with the three drums is the iron gong/bell (agogo). Just like ìgbìn drums, ìpèsè are upright open-ended log drums with single leather heads fastened and tuned by wooden pegs. Ìpèsè, the largest drum in the ìpèsè ensemble, is played with a single unshaped stick and the palm, while the two smaller drums (aféré and àràn) are played with two unshaped sticks.


Also known as àgèṛ è-̣ ògún, the àgèṛ è ̣ drum ensemble is used by the hunter’s guild(eg̣bé-̣oḍe)̣ during important events, which include the hunter’s dirge (ìrèmòj̣é), which is sung/chanted at a second burial ceremony ìsị́pà (also ìsị́pà-oḍ e)̣ , traditionally performed for any deceased hunter or hunters (oḍ e ̣ or oḷóḍ e)̣ . Àgèṛ è ̣ can also be played at other times, especially to honor Ògún, the Yorùbá iron and war patron deity (Drewal 1997, 219). Relevant examples of such occasions include the annual festival of the hunter’s guild (Àjòḍ ún Eg̣ bé-̣ Oḍ e)̣ and the Ògún festival (Oḍ ún Ògún), when the àgèṛ è ̣ drum ensemble is played and all the members of the hunter’s guild display their dancing steps. The àgèṛ è ̣ dance style itself is also called àgèṛ è ̣ or ìtasè-̣ àgèṛ è.̣ e àgèṛ è ̣ (or àgèṛ è-̣ Ògún) ensemble comprises of three drums, namely, àgèṛ è ̣ (the largest), fééré (next in size to àgèṛ è)̣ , and aféré (the smallest in the set). Like ìpèsè and ìgbìn, each of the three àgẹr̀ ẹ̀ drums has a hollowed wooden body. The only di erence is that àgèṛ è ̣ drums have two equally-sized hourglass goatskin/ leather heads (contrast to ìgbìn and ìpèsè with single-hourglass leather heads). Because they are double-headed drums of an enormous size, each àgèṛ è ̣ drum is placed horizontally on the ground where it is being played.


Àgbá is the drum ensemble used in the cult of Ògbóni, a secret society that wielded strong political, judicial, and religious powers among the Yorùbá in the precolonial era, but now functions as a social and religious group. Called “Ògbónisociety/group”(Eg̣bẹ́Ògbóni,orsimplyÒgbóni),the members worship Ilè,̣ the Earth, which is personi ed by the Earth Goddess who is variously called “the Great Mother of the Earth” (Ìyá-Ayé, Àbèṇ í Àdè,̣ Eḍ an Òlóló, Poóyè, and Lánní Oḷoṃ o,̣ among others) (Famule 2003, 9). Like the ìgbìn and ìpèsè, each of the three-drum ensemble of àgbá is upright open-ended log drum with single goatskin/leather head. But unlike the ìgbìn and/or ìpèsè that are usually of moderate size, àgbá drums are generally large and heavy. is is the reason for which they are sometimes called a “large barrel” (àgbákeṛ eḅ éṭ é)̣ . J.R.O Ojo has also suggested that the term àgbá could be “a reference to the loud, cannon-like sound produced by some of the drums” (Ojo 1973, 50). I’m inclined to agree with Ojo’s suggestion based on the following Oríkì Ògbóni (the praise chant of the Ògbóni secrete society) that obviously validates his assertion: “children of Ògbóni, owner of the cannon-like drum that produced a roaring sound like that of a falling tree, just like the Àràn that is common in Ìjèsạ /Ilésạ ” (Ògbóni Modùlorè, Oṃ o ̣ Alágbàá dún gbò bí igi; Àgbá dún-mi-dún; Àràn tì’Jèsạ̀ wá lù).

Figure 2: Àgbá drum ensemble

Àgbá drums usually have carvings with bas relief figures on the sides, which o en include images of human face(s) with large eyes. The large eyes are a reference to the outsized eyes of Eḍ an (also Eḍ an Ògbóni), a pair of a male and female bronze figures joined at the top by an iron chain. Theḍ an is one of the two principal emblems of Ògbóni. The other being Onílé, the “owner of the house/land”, another pair of free-standing male and female bronze figures, but without the chain (Famule 2003, 26–29). The Onílé figures are always placed together on a special altar inside the Ògbóni lodge (ilédì) and treated as one unit and referred to as Ìyá-Ayé, a euphemism for the Ògbóni Earth goddess. More importantly, both the Eḍ an and Onílé bronze figures are depicted with a very large pair of eyes that o en appear on the sides of the àgbá drums. These large eyes are a reference to the “all-seeing” and spiritually powerful eyes of Ìyá-Ayé. at the large eyes of the Eḍ an and Onílé bronze figures that are also carved on the sides of the àgbá drums are an allusion to Ògbóni as a powerful goddess who uses her spiritual power to identify with accuracy people with antisocial behaviors and is always very hard on them, as evidenced in her praise song (oríkì):

L á n n í O l ̣ o ṃ o ̣
Ìyá mi Àbèṇ í tíí f’orí èké bù’kèlè À b è ṇ í , P o ó y è t í ń m ù ’ j è ̣ ò ḍ à l è ̣ Kanna-kánná abojú lágbárí Abí’mo ̣ sí’lè ̣ Obìnrin
Ó p ’ ò ḍ à l è ̣ p é ẹ̀ -̣ p é ẹ̀ ̣
Òṛ ò ̣ buniwò s’ojú konko mó’̣ni4
L á n n í O l ̣ o ṃ o ̣

My mother Àbèṇ í, who eats her food-morsels with the liar’s severed head Àbèṇ í is also Poóyè, who drinks the blood of perfidious person(s)
She is the very one whose large eyes cover the entire forehead
A born hard and fearless woman
She kills and utterly exterminates the treachery
The audacious Goddess that stares and stares menacingly at you.5

Ẹ̀kù (Àgbé)

Èḳ ù are the drums of ep̣ a, a masking ritual festival found predominantly in eastern and northeastern parts of Yorùbáland, among the Ìjèsạ̀ , Èkìtì, Ìgbómìnà, and Okun Yorùbá, respectively (Famule 2017, 397). The èḳ ù ensemble comprises of three drums. The largest is the “mother of èḳ ù” (Ìyá-èḳ ù), the lead drum that produces a deep and overpowering pitch. Ìyá-èḳ ù is a round pot-shaped clay drum with stretched goatskin hour glass head (Famule 2005, 171–172). Marsha Vander Heyden had observed this kind of clay drum also being played at the eḷé f̣ óṇ (ẹpa) festival at Ìlóṛ ò-̣ Èkìtì in 1970 (Heyden 1977, 19). Heyden indicated that the same type of clay drum, reported by Kenneth Crosthwaite Murray, who called it àgbé, was also played at the ep̣ a festival at Òmù Àrán in 1931 (Heyden 1977, 19). The other two drums in èḳ ù drum ensemble are omele-abo and omele-ako,̣ both upright open-ended hollow log drums with a single leather head.

Figure 3: Ẹ ̀kù drum ensemble


Bàtá drums are used only for religious music, especially in the cult of Sạ̀ngó, the god associated with thunder and lightning. It is said that when Sạ̀ngó was alive, he was believed to be a great magician who used the bàtá drum music as an important vehicle for his effective magic performance and acrobatic display. us, the Sạ̀ ngó priests (onísạ̀ ngó), who serve as the principal patrons of bàtá today, usually include displays of magic and acrobatic dance in their ritual performances. Bàtá drums are also used in the cult of Egúngún, especially in the magic and acrobatic dance performances by magic display/entertainer Egúngún (eégún onídán/aláré). For these reasons, Akin Euba has suggested that “bàtá is the preferred instrument in situations where magic is performed, and this can only be because its sounds are effective in magic making” (Euba 2011, 518).

Bàtá ensembles comprises of five to six drums, namely, “mother of the drum” (ìyáàlù), a “female subordinate drum” (omele-abo), a “male subordinate drum” (omele-ako)̣ , a “subordinate drum” (kudi), and “a pair of two subordinate drums” (omele-méjì), or “three subordinate drums tied together to function as a talking drum” (omele-méṭa). Theach bàtá drum has a hollowed wooden body with two unequal sized heads (one smaller than the other) covered with a stretched and fasten goatskin leather.

Figure 4: Ìyáàlù and Omele-méjì Bàtá


Dùndún drums are used both for secular and religious music. The dùndún ensemble comprises of ve drums, namely, ìyáàlù, keṛ íkeṛ ì, gángan, kànàngó, and gúdúgúdú. Thexcept for gúdúgúdú, which has only one hourglass head, each of the four drums in the dùndún ve-drum ensemble has a hollowed wooden body with two equal sized hourglass heads covered with stretched and fasten goatskin leathers. The ìyáàlù is so referred to as such because is the largest in the set. The ojúgbe Small brass bells (ojúgbe), cast using the cire perdue method, are attached around the two hourglass heads of ìyáàlù. The second largest drum in the dùndún ensemble is keṛ íkeṛ ì, literally, “enjoyable/satisfying”, an allusion to it as adding sweetness to dùndún drum music. The second smallest is gángan, while kànàngó is the smallest of the four drums.

Figure 5: Ìyáàlù Dùndún
Figure 6: Kẹríkẹrì Dùndún

Gúdúgúdú, the fifth drum in the dùndún ensemble, is distinct from the previously mentioned four drums in the set not only because is the only one that has a single head, but also because it is characterized by ìda and kúseré. Ìda is a dark or black dried sap that is glued onto the center of the goatskin-covered hourglass head of gúdúgúdú. The ìda component serves two important functions. The first pertains to its spiritual connection to Ògún and one of the òrìsạ̀ pantheons that the god of the drums (Òrìsạ̀ Àyàn) serves as their spokesperson. It is believed that the tree sap/latex (oje-igi) that comes out of a log of wood when it is either felled or carved with iron tools (the symbol of Ogun), is a form of ritual offering (ètùtù) to Ògún. us, one of the praise chants (oríkì) of Ògún is the following: “the Ògún deity that is being worshipped by wood carvers is fond of drinking the tree sap” (Ògún gbéṇ à-gbéṇ à oje igi ló ń mu). The second and last function of ìda, which is glued onto the center of the goatskin-covered hourglass head of gúdúgúdú, is acoustic––it allows the drum to produce two different musical tones when played, depending on where exactly the head of the drum is struck. Kúseré, the second distinctive and indispensable component by which gúdúgúdú is characterized, is a circular iron bar affixed beneath the base of the drum. Kúseré also alludes to Ògún , as it is said that without iron tools like adzes, chisels, or knives (the symbol of Ògún), the carvers of the drum’s wooden body (igi-ìlù), or any wood carvings for that matter, cannot perform their functions. Thus, the Yorùbá saying “any deities who disparage Ògún would roast their yam and find no knife to peel it” (Òrìsạ̀ t’ó bá ní t’Ògún kòsí, yóó sun’su kò ní r’óḅ e ̣ wo), an allusion to Ògún as indispensable to all the rest of the Yorùbá òrìsạ̀ . And from the practical point of view, the kúseré component of gúdúgúdú “also helps to hold in place a series of wooden peg that are placed between it and the base of the hollowed wood body, helping to facilitate greater resonance” (Omojola 2010, 34).

In order to provide the reader with the necessary background knowledge to understand the specific and more in-depth role of àyàn in the performance context of the Egúngún festival (Oḍ ún Egúngún), the theme of this study, I will now provide a discourse on the Yorùbá concept of Egúngún.

Egúngún: A Physical manifestation of the Yorùbá ancestor spirits

Egúngún is thought of as a physical manifestation of the ancestor spirit(s). For that reason, every senior egúngún (Egúngún Àgbà) is addressed as “father/ ancestor” (bàbá). is belief is rooted in the Yorùbá concept of ìwà, which has been succinctly described by Rowland Abiodun as “the essential nature of a person or thing.” (Abiodun 2014, 245). In this study, I broaden the concept of ìwà to covering the essence of human existence and including the ancestors, along with other spirit beings/deities. That makes ìwà not de ned solely in terms of physical life of an individual on Earth, but extends to the afterlife. The reason for this is that the Yorùbá strongly believe that the dead (òkú), via their spirits, still exist a er death. at also means that the human essence–– or core values––can still influence the living even a er death. Consequently, the Yorùbá recognize two ìwà realities, namely, a good ìwà (ìwà-rere) and a bad ìwà (ìwà-lásán). The former is a human existence with a positive essence/ core values, and the latter is a human existence without any positive essence or impact while alive. The Yorùbá term for a human continued existence and essence even a er death is èḥ ìn-ìwà, in which the dead continue to make “their presence [and essence] known to the living, whose well-being depends upon their relationship to the living dead” (Pemberton 1989, 175). us, at the demise of their parents, a common petition of the children would be “Our deceased parent, do not forget us as you rest peacefully in heaven; please continue to look back and watch over us” (Òkú oḷóṃ o ̣ má sùn lóṛ un; jòẉ ó ̣ bojú w’èḥ ìn kío wá wòwá o).

Figure 7: Ọṣ̀ ọpà Egúngún Àgbà

The relationship existing between the Yorùbá concepts of èḥ ìn-ìwà (as discussed above) and egúngún, the major theme for this study, cannot be overstressed. Because èḥ ìn-ìwà provides a new status of “ancestor spirit,” who is now enlisted in the realm of the òrìsạ̀ , when an accomplished old person (i.e. one having ìwà-rere) dies, his or her bereaved children eulogize him or her, saying “Our parent had transitioned to an òrìsạ̀ divinity, now to be worshipped on our knees” (Bàbá/ Ìyá wa ti d’Òrìsạ̀ àkúnlè ̣ bo)̣ , a euphemism for a befitting worship. Hence, it is this concept of èḥ ìn-ìwà on which the Yoruba religious practice of ancestor veneration is based (Oḍ ún Egúngún being the most popular of these).

Morphologically, the Yorùbá term egúngún is a compound word formed by the combination of the morphemes /e+gún+gún/, literally, “that which facilitates or bring about stability, unity, peace, and joy,” among others. Thus, in Yorùbá communities where the cult of egúngún is prevalent, the devotees perform Oḍ ún Egúngún annually, with one major expectation in mind––bringing about their wellbeing and promoting the community’s harmony and stability. Thegúngún devotees found this belief in the Odù Ifá, Òẉ òṛ ìn-Aséỵ ìn (also Òẉ òṛ ìn-Sẹ́ )̣ ,6 which describes egúngún as sayégún,7 an allusion to egúngún as the ancestor spirits who bring about societal stability and people’s wellbeing. The Odù Òẉ òṛ ìn-Asé ỵ ìn recalls that at a certain time when the Earth (ayé) was threatened with collapse, Ifá (also Òṛ únmìlà) prescribed that a propitiatory ritual sacri ce (eḅ o/̣ ètùtù) be o ered to the Supreme Being, Olódùmarè, whose abode is the spiritual world (Àjùlé-òṛ un), so that he might stabilize ayé. Soon after the prescribed eḅ o/̣ ètùtù was brought to Olódùmarè, he sent down the heavenly spirit beings known as sayégún, the first egúngún, to help stabilize ayé. The sayégún/egúngún barely got to the world of the living (ilé-ayé), where they had their initial stopover in a forest that would later be called the forest-grove of egúngún (igbó-ìgbàlè)̣ , when rain started to fall. It was the orchestra of àyàn who with their drumming nally brought the egúngún home from their initial igbó-ìgbàlè ̣ stopover. From that day on, many egúngún, especially the egúngún-àgbà, have continued to use igbó-ìgbàlè ̣ as the grove from where they appear to the public during the Oḍ ún Egúngún. It was also since that time that the pacts between the egúngún and àyàn (who led them home with their drum music) together with babaláwo, who prescribed the eḅ o/̣ ètùtù, become e ective. at pacts decree that, “it is forbidden for any egúngún to og the drummers or the ifá diviners/priests” (Egúngún kò gbóḍ ò ̣ na Àyàn; béẹ̀ ṇ i woṇ kò gbóḍ ò ̣ na Babaláwo).

Another Odù Ifá source that con rms egúngún as heavenly spirits (AráÒṛ un), who descended from their heavenly abode to stabilize ilé-ayé, is found in Ogbè-Ròsùn (also Ogbè Ìròsùn):
Apárí awo Èg̣ bá
Óṣ òṣ ò ̣ ni’run àgbòṇ awo Èṣ à
Abasósó orí rààrì-raari awo Òde-Ìjèḅ ú
A dá fún Òlòlò-lóhùn tí sẹ oḳ o ̣ oḅ untun… Níjọ́tíàwoṇ Irúnmoḷẹ̀àtiàwoṇ Egúngún Ńti òṛ un bò ̣ wá sí ayé.8
One with a baldhead, the secret of Èg̣ bá (Abéọ̀ kúta)
e one with a plentiful beard, the secret of Èṣ à
One with a large tu of hair on the head, the secret of Òde-Ìjèḅ ú
It casts Odù Ifá for the Stutter/Stammer, husband of Oḅ untun
On the day the 400 high ranking divinities together with Egúngún Are coming from heaven onto the earth.

However, the term egúngún is strictly used in two contexts. The rst exempli es those that are not perceived as “Ancestor.” us, this type of Egúngún, which Ulli Beier has referred to as the “unserious masquerades,” (Beier 1964, 191–2), is beyond the scope of this study. The egúngún in this category are interchangeably called “the masked player/entertainer” (egúngún aláré), “the masked performer of tricks/magic” (egúngún onídán); “we dance with the wood” (egúngún agbégijó), or “the itinerant masked dancer” (egúngún alárìnjó). Thegúngún alárìnjó accurately describes this first type of egúngún, since they characteristically travel from one Yorùbá community or region to the next, performing dances, tricks, and magic at all times of the year, and living predominantly on the incomes of their performances.

The second type of egúngún, the focus of this study, exempliflies those that are recognized as “real” egúngún, alluding to a physical manifestation of the “Ancestor spirits.” They are found among the Òỵ ó-̣Yorùbá and their descendants who migrated southwards to other Yorùbá towns like Ìgànná, Aáwé,̣ Ìséỵ ìn, Eḍ e,̣ Ìbàdàn, and Òkèigbó. Because of their Òỵ ó-̣Yorùbá origin, they are occasionally called Egúngún-Òỵ ó.̣ Unlike the rst type (egúngún aláré/onídán/agbéjijó/alárìnjó), the Egúngún-Òỵ ó ̣ type incorporates those that speci cally connect with Ancestor veneration. Hence, they are also called “the inhabitants of Heaven” (Ará-òṛ un), or “the Ancestors” (Bàbá). is type of egúngún emblematizes the spirit of the dead (aged) man, who is believed to have transformed into an ancestor in èḥ ìn-ìwà.

Through egúngún, the ancestor spirit manifests under a specially created shroud-costume assemblage called èḳ ú/agò ̣ that is worn to cover the head and the whole body of the arèḳ ú, the human agent that donned the èḳ ú/agò.̣ ere are different forms of èḳ ú/agò,̣ each depending on its component materials. Some are made entirely of traditionally hand-woven kíjìpá cloths and tightly crocheted netting (àwòṇ ) sewn around to the face, which veils the face of the arèḳ ú. The Eégún Alágò ̣ type from Òkèigbó exempli es this form of èḳ ú/agò.̣ Some are made of layers of clothes of different colors (especially red, yellow, and blue colors) and potentially with such attachments as animal skulls and horns and leather pouches of medicine-charms.

Figure 8: Eégún Alágọ̀

Some others are made of a variety of wild animals’ pelts, potentially with ère carved headpieces. An ideal example is the Aláwop̣ álà.

Figure 9: Ìtíàrán
Figure 10: Aláwọpálà

The primary purpose of èḳ ú/agò ̣ is to totally obliterate the identity of the human agent that dons it, in order to conceal the power that gave form to the “Ancestor spirit” through the wearer of the èḳ ú (arèḳ ú), the energizer of the èḳ ú /agò.̣ Hence, from the esoteric or mystic level, the real meaning of egúngún is “powers concealed.” at is, the voluminous èḳ ú/agò ̣ of egúngún, the manifested “Ancestor spirit,” has concealed the unknowable, that which is knowable only to the members of the egúngún cult (moṛ íwo/òj̣ è)̣ is arcane Implication is persuasive in the following èṣàoriw ìegúngún:“egúngún is not that which can be seen; the ancestral spirit is unknowable in the forest-grove of egúngún” (Egúngún kò s’ eṇ i àárí; Òòsạ̀ ò s’eṇ i àámò ̣ ní’gbàlè)̣ .9 And even among the moṛíwo/òj̣è,̣ who have access to igbó-ìgbàlè–̣ –where egúngún usually dress up before emerging to the public, and thus, know the “powers concealed” in egúngún––they are forbidden to reveal the secrets about the “powers concealed.” at the moṛ íwo are bound to adhering strictly to this pact is contained in their cult’s slogan, reminding them of the impending deadly consequence(s), should they divulge the cult secrets to any non-initiates: “the lips of the knowledgeable ones or cult’s initiated members must always remain gagged” (wíwo léṇ u awo ń wo), a euphemism and reminder that all the moṛ íwo must forever guard all the cult’s secrets from all who are not initiated into the cult.

As earlier explained that the Yorùbá thought about “ancestor spirits” is deeply rooted in their concept of ìwà with èḥ ìn-ìwà, that concept also informed their religious practice of ancestor veneration/worship, the most popular being the Oḍ ún Egúngún. Hence, the Yorùbá believe that their deceased ancestors never die; rather, they relocate to another world, which is the spiritual realm of spirit beings (òṛ un), from where their spirits can be invoked and appear in the form of egúngún. Upon the invocation of the spirits of the dead (o en by way of the Oḍ ún Egúngún), the ancestor(s) of the family-lineage of egúngún manifest physically in the appearance of egúngún that is addressed as Bàbá/Bàbá Àgbà, an allusion to the Ancestor or Ancestor spirit.

Figure 11: Ẹyẹ Abìdíàlè (Also see Figure 7)

Performance Context of Ọdún Egúngún

The author has analyzed the Odù Òẉ òṛ ìn-Asé ỵ ìn (also Òẉ òṛ ìn-Sẹ́ )̣ , which reveals that the rst egúngún, known as sayégún, were the spirit beings that Olódùmarè sent from their heavenly abode to come and bring soothe to the chaotic ilé-ayé; and which also tells that the àyàn were the ones who led the rst egúngún home from igbó-ìgbàlè ̣ with the drumming. However, it is important to also stress that since then, the unending role of the àyàn in the cult of egúngún has been unabated. Hence, the following is a narrative that points to the further indispensable role of àyàn in the performance context of Oḍ ún Egúngún, which were based on the author’s own eyewitness accounts for overthelasttwoandhalfdecadesthathehasbeenresearchingontheOḍún
Egúngún in Òkèigbó.10

Òkèigbó is a historic town located in Ilè-̣ Olújí/Òkèigbó Local Government, in the Oǹdó State of Nigeria. It is a major town (from which Ìféṭèḍ ó sister-town was formed in 1931) along the ancient cities of Ilé-Ifè ̣ and Oǹdó. Of all the major traditional festivals that are celebrated at Òkèigbó, which include Oḍ ún Ògún (also Oḷój̣ ó)̣ , Orò, Àlúkú, among others, Oḍ ún Egúngún, in which the role of Àyàn cannot be overemphasized, is the most popular and always best attended.

Like other Yorùbá communities where this form of Ancestor veneration is prevalent, the cult of egúngún Òkèigbó is known as òj̣ẹ̀ (or eg̣ bẹ́ òj̣è)̣. And the cult members are referred to as “those with the secret knowledge of the egúngún cult/ò j̣ è ̣ (moṛ íwo). They are all in charge of and the partakers of Oḍ ún Egúngún, which is celebrated every year in that community. The title holders among the ò j̣ è ̣ include the chief priest of egúngún (aláàgbáà). He is also eulogized as “the father of moṛ íwó” (Baba Moṛ íwó), an allusion to aláàgbáà being the spiritual head of the moṛ íwó. The current aláàgbáà of the egúngún cult in Òkèigbó is Chief Àwísẹ ̣ Adérèṃ í Fágbadé. Next in rank to the aláàgbáà is eésòṛ un òj̣ è,̣ which is held by Chief Ògúnníyì Ògúnkànmí. As well, there are three female òj̣ẹ̀ chie aincy titles, which include, in descending order of rank, ìyá-àgan, ìyá-moḍ è,̣ and ìyá-lájé.

Figure 12a: Etíyẹrí
Figure 12b: Etíyẹrí close view
Figure 13: Aláwọpálà
Figure 14: Arọ́ba
Figure 15: Owólẹwà
Figure 16: Adáradóhùn
Figure 17a-b: Badà front and back views
Figure 18a-b: Kúólé front and back views
Figure 19: Eégún Òkèàgbẹ̀
Figure 20: Awó
Figure 21: Mọ́lérí

There are various types of egúngún in Òkèigbó, which can be loosely identified or distinguished using two variables. The first variable is identification by the èḳ ú/agò ̣ type of egúngún. Hence, this identification variable is based principally on the physical appearance and formal-style attributes of an individual egúngún. Falling within this rst variable are egúngún with the carved mask/ gure headdresses (egúngún-elére), or egúngún with a load on their head (egungun-eḷ éṛ ù), a euphemism for the carved mask/ gure(s) and other assemblages of objects that adorn the headdresses of certain egúngún. ose “load” assemblages o en include deer antlers (iwo-àgbòṇ rín), sacred animal skulls (agbárí-eṛ anko abàmì), small gourds lled with magical or medicinal substances (àdó/ìrèṛ è)̣ , leather pouches of medicines (gbìnrín-oògùn), and carved masks/ figures (ère), among others. Thegúngún Etíyeṛ í, Aláwo p̣ álà, and Aróḅ atè ̣ are typical examples of the egúngún eḷéṛ ù/elére type. Also identi ed or distinguished by their èḳ ú/agò ̣ shroud-costume type are the egúngún with headdress made of an animal tail or hide and skin (egúngún-oníròṛ ò)̣ . Relevant examples are egúngún Owóleẉ à and Adáradóhùn. Some other egúngún that are identi ed by their costume types are egúngún with large and royally designed shroud-costumes, part of which o en trail behind the egúngún (egúngún-alágò ̣ gbáruru). The examples are egúngún badà and kúólé. Others located within this costume type variable are egúngún with a tray or cap-like design pattern headdress (eégún-aláte)̣ , egúngún with a tighttting shroud (egúngún-èdó), and egúngún without any particular headdress design/shape (egúngún-òkolombo)

Figure 22: Arọ́batẹ̀
Figure 23: Akíngbadé

The second and last variable used to determine a given egúngún Òkèigbó type is identification by the function, character, and/or performance traits of an individual egúngún. Thus, there are warrior egúngún (egúngún-ológun), examples of such being Aróḅatè,̣and Akíngbadé, that are distinguished by the weaponries or missiles (swords, axes/ mattocks, machetes, clubs, etc.), which they brandish in their hands. Others are the “children provider” (egúngúnoḷóṃ o)̣ , “provider/maker of herbal medicines and concoctions (administered to children free of charge to prevent various diseases)”(alágbo-òf̣é)̣,andEỵ é-̣ fodò, the powerful magician and controller of amulets and charms. All the three egúngún are an apparent example of egúngún-olóògùn, the controller/maker/provider of amulets, charms, or medicinal concoctions. There are also the àtòrì whipogger egúngún (egúngún-eḷég̣ ba/oḷóṛ é)̣ , distinguished by their unchecked aggressive and chaotic character, as they whip and terrorize the whole crowd of spectators. Thexamples of such belligerent egúngún are Awó, Òḅ o,̣ the Scorpion (Àkèèkèé), Bólódeòkú, and the “hooligan/ragmu n” (Jàǹdùkú), among others.

Figure 24: Ọlọḿ ọ
Figure 25: Alágbo-ọ̀fẹ́
Figure 26: Ẹyẹ́fodò

In the olden days when nearly all the streets of Òkèigbó were surrounded by thick forests, the preparation rite for the appearance of most egúngún (especially those distinguished by their large shroud costumes) in which the èḳ ú/ agò ̣ are donned by the arèḳ ú occurred inside the igbó-igbàlè.̣ It was from the igbó-ìgbàlè ̣ that the egúngún emerged to the waiting crowd of adherents and spectators outside of the forest-grove. Today, only one egúngún, by the name of Aláwop̣ álà, still uses the igbó-ìgbàlè ̣ as his site of his appearance, when all the rest now appear from their individual families’ “houses in heaven” (ilérun). Hence, the following oríkì speaks to, and reminds us how the most celebrated egúngún (like those from the Èṣ à Òg̣ bín––a leading egúngún lineage) characteristically appeared from igbó-ìgbàlè:̣

Pààká di méf̣ à ní’gbàlè ̣
Èḳ ú di méf̣ à mo lò wóṇ gbó
E ̣ wá w’asọ ̣ Egúngún bó se lu kámi lára bí ajere
Èỵ ìn’kùnlé Oḷóg̣ bìń nì’gbàlè ̣
Mo ní kílóse t’óbìnrin ò m’awo?
Ará Ògbojò, woṇ kìí f’oḳ ó ̣ kan’lè ̣ ní’gbàlè ̣
Èyí t’óbá f’oḳ ó ̣ kan’lè ̣ ní’gbàlè ̣
Ó t i s á b à b á è ̣ l ’ ó ḳ ó ̣
Èmi òní f’oḳ ó ̣ kan bàbáà mi
Èṣ à Òg̣ bín, ará òde Ògbólúké ̣
Tì’gboro sẹ́ ,̣ tì’gbàlè ̣ sẹ́ ̣
Eégún t’ óbá tì’gboro sẹ́ ̣ lasọ ̣ rè ̣ nj’ òpò oṃ o ̣ láńganran Èyí t’óbá tì’gbàlè ̣ sẹ́ ,̣ a jé ̣ kìkì asọ ̣ Èṣ à Òg̣ bín
Oṃ o ̣ Molúfóṇ -Adé, mo jè’̣ be ̣ bí eṇ í je’̣su

Here are now six egúngún in our family forest-grove of egúngún
erein we have six shroud-costumes of egúngún and I used all until they worn out
Come and look at how the egúngún shroud-costume has become tattered on my body
e forest-grove of egúngún is right there at the backyard of Oḷóg̣ bìń
I asked why then are females not allowed therein (at the forest-grove of egúngún)?
e natives of Ògbojò don’t plow the forest-grove of egúngún with the hoe
Whosever among them tilled the forest-grove of egúngún with the hoe at one has stroke his father with the hoe
I for one will not strike my own father with the hoe
My father Èṣ à Òg̣ bín, resident at the compound of Ògbólúké ̣
Emerging/ appearing from the house or the forest-grove of egúngún

Any egúngún who emerged from the house is the one with a tighttting shroud
e one who emerged from the forest-grove of egúngún always have the voluminous shroud-costumes, which typify the egúngún Èṣ à Òg̣ bín
Child of Molúfóṇ -Adé, who eats the yam porridge as if it were yam
e Òkèigbó community’s Oḍ ún Egúngún is an annual ritual festival that is permanently scheduled to commence on July 25th and last for seven days.

The exception is the Kúólé Oḷój̣ èẹ́ ̣ Egungun lineage, whose family members commence their own Oḍ ún Egúngún a day prior (on July 24th each year). is is becausetheKúóléOḷój̣èẹ̣́aredirectdescendantsofÈṣàÒg̣bínOlógbojò,popularly known as Baba Egúngún (the overall founding father of Egúngún-Òỵ ó,̣ from which the egúngún cult of Òkèigbó descended). us, the Kúólé Oḷój̣ èẹ́ ̣ lineage members are given the honor of starting their own Oḍ ún Egúngún a day before the general commencement date.

Principally to facilitate their smooth performances, the ritual performance context of oḍ ún egúngún in Òkèigbó is segmented into four phases, namely, Ikúnlè ̣ Egúngún; Ìta Egúngún; Ìje Egúngún, and Ìgbájà Egúngún, discussed as follows in that order. The discussion is followed by eyewitness accounts of an episode of the egúngún performance context, which was precipitated for the most part by the nature of the language of drum that was being drummed for the given egúngún.

Ìkúnlẹ̀ Egúngún

The First day of the oḍ ún egúngún is called Ìkúnlè ̣ Egúngún (literally,
the kneeling rite for Egúngún). It is so called because all the egúngún devotees must be on their knees in front of their individual family’s high altar of egúngún (ojúbo ̣ egúngún) as they invoke their ancestor spirits and petition them to banish death from their family, promote their wellbeing, and bring about the community’s peace, harmony, and stability. The symbol of egúngún that is displayed on every egúngún lineage-family’s ojúbo ̣ egúngún are whips (àtòrì), carved in a spiral design called isán. is is the reason ojúbo ̣ egúngún is also known as “the abode of spirally designed àtòrì/isán, symbol of egúngún” (awésàń). us, both ojúbo ̣ egúngún and awésàń are used interchangeably. From the esoteric level, the isán is called “Death’s whip” (òp̣ á-ikú), a short form of “the whip that we (devotees of egúngún) use to drive death away from the egúngún-lineage family compound” (òp̣ á tí a lé i k ú n í l é Ò j̣ è )̣ .

Figure 27: Ewésàán-Ojúbọ Egúngún
Figure 28: Ojúbọ Ọya

The following is the author’s eyewitness account of the performance context of Ìkúnlẹ̀ egúngún by the egúngún devotees from the egúngún-lineage family of Badà Èsụ́ bí (whose praise name is “the garment of amulets/ charms (àrán-oògùn). On Monday July 19, 2004 ( ve days prior to the Ìkúnlè ̣ Egúngún), a pigeon (eỵ eḷé) was ritually sacri ced to Oỵ a, the goddess of the river, by means of it being slaughtered and its blood being sprinkled on the high altar of Oỵ a (ojúbo ̣ Oỵ a). Next, early in the morning of Ìkúnlè ̣ Egúngún (on Sunday July 25, 2004), an o ering of wraps of puréed and cooked corn starch (èḳ o)̣ and pureed and steamed beans (móị́nmóị́n) and kola nut (obìàbàtà) is presented in front of the isán (or òp̣ á-ikú) located at the family’s ojúbo ̣ egúngún/awésàń. A votive sacri ce of a rooster was made by slaugh-tering and sprinkling its blood on the isán/òp̣ á-ikú. Describing the awésàń (ojúbo ̣ egúngún), Bàbá Oḷóp̣ àádé,the head of the Badà Èsụ́ bí egúngún-lineage family, has explained that, “awésàn is the altar place/spot where the spirit of the family ancestor that is personi ed by egúngún is receiving the invocation of o erings presented to him by his children” (Awésàń ni ibi ti Bàbá ti ńgba ìbo)̣ . A er the presentation of o erings, all the devotees prayed to the family’s egúngún ancestor spirit(s) and then concluded their prayers with the following petition-song:

Báni lé’kú lo ̣ l’árùn lo ̣ Báni lé’kú lo ̣ l’árùn lo ̣ o Báni l’ójòjò k’ó wo’g̣ bó lo ̣
Help us drive out death and disease
Help us drive death and disease away
Help us banish sickness into the forests for good

A er this song was sung, all the devotees emerged from the awésàń (ojúbo ̣ egúngún) into the front of the family hall (àkòdì badà), where they were received by the deafening drumbeats that were drummed by the orchestra of àyàn who played their dùndún drums to entertain the members of the Badà Èsúbí egúngún-lineage family. All interested family members then danced in turn to the drumming as they closed the Ìkúnlè ̣ egúngún, which centered principally on the invocation (with ritual o erings) of the family’s ancestor spirit(s), whose physicality is understood as egúngún. Generally speaking, it is a er the completion of Ìkúnlè ̣ egúngún part of the annual Oḍ ún Egúngún that the public outings or appearances of the community egúngún, which last for seven days, would occur.

Ìta Egúngún
Ìta is the Yorùbá term for the “third day”. As it applies to the context of the Oḍ ún Egúngún, Ìta Egúngún translates to all the ritual activities that are performed on the third day following the ìkúnlè ̣ egúngún, the commencement of the oḍ ún egúngún, itself already examined. While ìkúnlè ̣ egúngún is speci cally for the invocation of the ancestor spirit(s) of the individual egúngún-lineage family, whose physical manifestation is celebrated as egúngún, ìta egúngún, on the other hand, is principally for the gathering of the individual Egúngún lineage-family members to have fun and party. Therefore, ìta egúngún caters to the spirit of togetherness of the family, when all members of the egúngún-lineage family, along with their invited friends and well-wishers, throw a big party in celebration and remembrance of their family ancestors.

Figure 29: Ilérun

Using the Badà Èsụ́ bí egúngún-lineage family’s ìta egúngún performance context as a case study, the following is the author’s eyewitness account of Ìta Egúngún that this family celebrated on Tuesday July 27, 2004. At about 7 a.m., the family began its ìta egúngún celebration, when all the family members converged at the Bada compound (Ìta Badà), where the family hall (àkòdì) is located. The àkòdì itself comprises a large hall (used for family meetings/ gatherings) and many hidden rooms dedicated to the family egúngún and other òrìsạ̀ related a airs/matters. First among the hidden rooms is the family awésàń/ojúbọ egúngún, which has been described and analyzed under Ìkúnlè ̣ Egúngún. (See Figure 27).

Another room that is much larger in size than the awésàń/ojúbo ̣ egúngún inside the àkòdì is the “house in Heaven” (ilérun or ilé-Òṛ un). From the functionalism approach, ilérun is a sacred room that has the function similar to that of a Christian sacristy (where the church’s vestments and sacred vessels, among others are stored). Hence, the ilérun inside the àkòdì badà is where all the family’s èḳ ú/agò ̣ are stored and donned by the arèḳ ú during the annual Oḍ ún Egúngún. Other egúngún paraphernalia that are kept inside the ilérun in general may include those that are peculiar to, and used by, an individual egúngún àgbá, for instance, the leather belt of medicine-charm (ìgbàdí), leather underwear of amulet (ìbàǹté-̣ oògùn), leather pouches of charm (àgádágodo), sword (idà), and axe/mattock (àáké), among others.

After all the Badà Èsụ́ bí family members have converged at the ìta/àkòdì badà, the young men of the house slaughtered a big goat (ewúré tíó t’éwúré) that they had bought the previous day and prepared the meat. Then, the females/wives of the house (obìnrin-ilé) cooked the meat, along with an array of assorted foods that included okra and meat soups (oḅ è-̣ ilá àti oḅ è-̣ eṛ an), pounded yam (iyán), and cassava starch meal (èḅ à). When all the food preparation was completed, everything was brought inside the àkòdì hall where all the members of the family and their invited friends and relatives, including the àyàn, had a big feast. A er everyone had eaten and drunk to their satisfaction, then came the service of the àyàn, who provided the drum music to which skillful dancers (among the family members) danced one a er the other. At the end of the dance performances that closed the ìta egúngún, I proceeded to thank Bàbá Oḷóp̣ àádé, the head of the family, for having given me the privilege to partake in their family’s ìta egúngún ceremony. In his friendly remark, he responded, “learned person, you are the one that came at the right time. Do you also know that tomorrow is the appearance of Bàbá?” (Akòẉ é ìwo ̣ lo mòọ́ ̣ rìn. Sé o tún mò ̣ wípé òḷa ni Bàbá máa jáde?).11 What the informant meant when he said I “come at the right time” was that the Oḍ ún Egúngún of year 2004, of which I partook, had been scheduled for the “appearance” of Badà (the family’s most senior egúngún), since the appearance of this egúngún occurs once every other year. “Had it been that you were unlucky, you could have come last year without having the opportunity to see Bàbá” (ká ní oḍ ún èsí lo wá ni, o kò bátí ní àǹfàní àti rí Bàbá). My informant, Bàbá Oḷóp̣ àádé, concluded his pleasantry with his peculiar sarcastic laughter.

Consequently, the following is the author’s eyewitness account of the appearance and performance context of egúngún Badà, which occurred on Wednesday July 28, 2004. Thearly in the morning, the young males of the family, just like they had done the day before, slaughtered another big goat in front of the family’s àkòdì hall and then prepared the goat meat, which they transferred to the obìnrin-ilé for cooking, along with other assorted foods. The meal was meant exclusively for the family ò j̣ è ̣ and also the àyàn, who provided the drumming for the egúngún. Next, the family ò j̣ è ̣ proceeded into the family’s ilérun to prepare for the appearance of Bàbá (i.e., egúngún Badà). (See Figure 29). Because of my birthright as an òj̣è/̣egúngún cult member (my maternal grandfather, the late Ògúnwálé Òḍ áná-Fojúràá, was of the Ìgbórí egúngún lineage), I had the privilege of being able to enter the ilérun with other moṛíwo (the male òj̣ẹ̀ members) to partake in the preparation for the appearance of egúngún Badà. Following the completion of the preparation, the egúngún emerged from inside the ilérun and stepped out of the front door of the àkòdì. The Egúngún then proceeded to move very slowly as he stepped on the blood of the goat that had been spilled in front of the àkòdì building, an allusion to the ancestor’s acceptance of the votive animal sacri ce. The egúngún then continued to walk very slowly, covering the entire Badà Compound (the distance of about one quarter-mile) as his royally designed long èḳ ú/agò ̣ trailed behind him like a bridal garment. As a sign of respect and also to keep the long sprawling robe moving freely, some minor egúngún entourage helped li and align the extending robe on the oor. (See Figure 17a/b). The entire appearance and performance context of Badà took about twenty minutes before the egúngún returned to the ilérun, the spiritual realm of spirit beings to which the ancestral egúngún belong.

According to Bàbá Oḷóp̣ àádé, “Now that the spirit of our family ancestor had been invoked and the egúngún appeared and had used his trailing èḳ ú/ agò ̣ to ward o evil and all the imminent catastrophes, no death or diseases would come near any of our family members. Surely, Baba has ushered in a year of prosperity.”12 is a rmational statement validates the signi cance of òp̣ á-ikú (derived from ọp̀ á tí a lé ikú nílé Òj̣ è)̣ , the principal emblem of egúngún displayed on the ojúbo ̣ egúngún that translates and alludes to “the whips that we used to drive death away from the Egúngún lineage-family compound.” Accordingly, that this key symbol of egúngún is smeared with the blood of votive animals with the o ering of wraps of èḳ o ̣ leaves no doubt that Oḍ ún Egúngún is meant to drive death away or banish death from the homes of òj̣ è,̣ and family devotees at large. is signi cance is also noticeable in Bruce G. Trigger’s passing statement that “the egúngún society…was concerned with limiting the powers of death” (Trigger 2003, 500).

Ìje Egúngún

Ìje is the Yoruba term for the “seventh day.” As is used here within the context of the Oḍ ún Egúngún in Òkèigbó, Ìje Egúngún is the seventh day of activities following the commencement of the annual Oḍ ún Egúngún. Thexcept for one exception (the compulsory Igbájà Egúngún), by tradition, Ìje Egúngún is the last day when all public appearances and performance activities of the entire community egúngún formally end for that year’s Oḍ ún Egúngún. For that reason, Ìje Egúngún is characterized by the trouping out in a very large numbers, most if not all of the community’s egúngún that have not appeared since the commencement of that year’s festival. Hence, Ìje Egúngún is popularly described as “the day when all the egúngún have their last opportunity to ght to nish” (àjàlo-̣ àrùgbè egúngún), an allusion to the Egúngún making sure to complete all the activities that they needed or desired to perform, since that day is their last chance to do so.

Ìgbájà Egúngún

The Yoruba term Igbájà translates literally to the “market cleansing.” It is an allusion to the spiritual cleansing of the community, and by extension, the whole of ayé. Hence the Yorùbá philosophical saying “the Earth is a market” (ayé lo j̣ à). It is believed that the rite of Igbájà Egúngún is a form of an appeasement of all the community ancestors (manifested in egúngún) to ward o evil and protect all the townspeople against any imminent catastrophes like incessant death,especially of the community youths (ikú-òẉòẉó)̣, contagious or communicable diseases (àjàkálè ̣ àrùn), war (ogun), drought (òg̣belè), and famine (ìyàn), among others.

Figure 30: Onílù-Àyàn

This last phase of Oḍ ún Egúngún is performed on Ìje-kejì Egúngún, the 14th day following the commencement of the annual Oḍ ún Egúngún; and is a ritual performance in which the impact of àyàn is mostly prominent. In fact, it is not an overstatement to declare that without the àyàn, who drum in their dùndún ensemble––which speaks the language of drum to which the egúngún dance performers display their dancing skills in turns––there is no Igbájà Egúngún. is grand nale rite of Oḍ ún Egúngún is when most (if not all) of the community’s egúngún converge in front of the oḅ a’s market/palace for the celebration of Igbájà Egúngún. The two groups of performers of Igbájà egúngún, whose performance contexts complement each other, are the àyàn and the community hosts of egúngún.

The author begins the Igbájà Egúngún’s narrative and analysis with the professional orchestra of onílù-àyàn, who drum dùndún, the preferred drum ensemble in the performance context of Igbájà Egúngún. The reason for the preference for dùndún over any other drums, especially the bàtá, is inconclusive. However, during my interview with Pa Adésop̣ é ̣ Ìgbáladé (the custodian of Egúngún Etíyeṛ í, one of the community’s most senior egúngún), I was told that the egúngún’s preference for a certain drum ensemble (dùndún or bàtá) is by choice and not because certain drum music or acoustic patterns are easier to dance or decode than another. He explained further that both the dùndún and bàtá are talking drums that produce an array of rhythmic patterns, which can easily be discerned and decoded by any skillful egúngún dance performer. However, I have found that there is usually only one talking drum in a dùndún drum ensemble, which is the lead drum (ìyáàlù). But, in a bàtá ensemble, there could be up to three talking drums, namely, ìyáàlù, omele-abo, and omele-méṭ a. Consequently, while a given dùndún music egúngún dancer has only one talking drum to discern and decode its language with the dance performance, on the other hand, his contemporary bàtá music egúngún dance performer must discern all the two to three talking drums’ surrogate speech produced in a bàtá ensemble, in order to decode them correctly. I corroborate this point with two examples, namely: the drum’s speech (the “drum language”) of dùndún, and that of bàtá, discussed as follows in that order.

Example 1: Language of ìyáàlù, the only talking drum (in the dùndún ensemble):
B’óbá ṣe pé’mi nì’wo ̣ ni
Ǹbá f’apá jó, f’apá jó
B’óbá ṣe pé’mi nì’wo ̣ ni
Ǹ b á f ’ e ṣ è ̣ j ó , f ’ e ṣ è ̣ j ó
B’óbá ṣe pé’mi nì’wo ̣ ni, ǹbá gbogbo ara gbòṇ rì-rì-rì-rì
If I were you
I will dance with my hands unceasingly
If I were you
I will dance with my legs unabatedly
If I were you, I will shakeup my whole body continuously
Example 2: Language of ìyáàlù, omele-abo, and omele-méṭa talking drums (in bàtá ensemble):
Ìyáàlù: Oḷóḅ a-níkà (Oḷóḅ ańkà) Omele-abo: Oorí
Ìyáàlù: Fìǹkàn
Omele-abo: Oorí
Ìyáàlù: Fìǹkàn Fìǹkàn Fìǹkàn Fìǹkàn
Omele-abo: Oorí
Omeleméṭ a: Èrúkó ̣ ro’ ko ro’ ko Èrúkó ̣ yè’̣nà yè’̣nà Èrúkó ̣ ko’̣ bè ko’̣ bè ko’̣be
The combination of all the speeches delivered by all the three bàtá talking drums:
Oḷ óḅ a-níkà/Oḷ óḅ ańkà (a given egúngún)
Your wooden mask headdress
Move it sideways
Your wooden mask headdress
Move it sideways continuously
Your wooden mask headdress
Like a hoe that clears the bush without end; it cleans the footpath ceaselessly, and then makes the ridges unendingly.


In Example 1, the given egúngún dance performer would discern and decode (with his dance performance) the language of ìyáàlù, the only talking drum in the dùndún ensemble. Whereas in Example 2, the given egúngún dance performer (Oḷóḅ ańkà) must discern and decode simultaneously (with his dance performance) all the three bàtá talking drum’s speeches (transcribed above). It is therefore reasonable to conclude that the language of the dùndún drum ensemble is more direct than that of bàtá, which may have accounted for its preference in the performance context of Oḍ ún Egúngún of Òkèigbó.

Figure 31: Photo of Chief Gbémibádé Akínròm̩ ádé

On Tuesday July 27, 2004 (eleven days before that year’s Ìgbájà Egúngún–– the grand nale of Oḍ ún Egúngún), I conducted an interview of Chief Gbémibádé Akínròṃ ádé, the head/highest chief (oḅ alásẹ̀ /̣ baálè)̣ of the onílù-àyàn of Òkèigbó and Ìféṭèḍ ó. The subject of that interview was on the role of àyàn within the performance context of Oḍ ún Egúngún. The following are the unedited words of the interviewee, which con rmed that the indispensable role of àyàn in connection with egúngún (as in the Oḍ ún Egúngún) has been dated back to the beginning of time/existence. He said:

“In the beginning of time/existence, the egúngún were the spirit beings who brought peace and stability into the earth. When the egúngún were coming from the heaven, they first descended into the forest-grove of egúngún. As they were emerging/ appearing to the public from the forest-grove of egúngún, they stopped when they got to the entrance. It was there (at the entrance of the forest-grove of egúngún) where they were being escorted home/ to the public by the orchestra of drummers with the drumming” (Láti ìgbà ìwásẹ̀ ,̣ Eégún lóm’áyégún.NígbàEégúnńbọ̀lát’òdeòṛun,wóṇ rọ̀ka’lẹ̀sí’gbóìgbàlè.̣Nígbà
Eégún ńbò ̣ láti Igbó-ìgbàlè,̣ Eégún ló dúró kí àwoṇ Onílù lo ̣ mu wá).

Figure 32: Purification Rite of the dancing arena-ground of Egúngún

The interviewee explained further that since that time/day, the Àyàn have forever been drumming for egúngún. He concluded that the type of dùndún drum music that the àyàn drum for the dance performance of egúngún, especially during Igbájà Egúngún, is called gèsé, which comprises seven distinctive acoustic patterns (or rhythms), namely, elékóto, láàńtòtò, ìranpá, ìlù Sạ̀ ngó, ìlù Oỵ a, ìlù Òrìsạ̀ -Oko, and ìlù Oḅ àtálá.

The following is the author’s eyewitness account of the performance context of the Igbájà Egúngún that was held on Saturday August 7, 2004 at ÌtaÀàre ̣ (one of the major open-space markets/streets at Òkèigbó that is ideal for such performances). The Igbájà Egúngún started with the dancing arena’s puri cation rite, when an o ering of consecrated water was presented (by way of sprinkling on the entire dancing oor) to Ilè,̣ the Earth goddess, invoking the deity to purify the ground on top of which the egúngún were scheduled to dance, one after the other.13 e puri cation rite was followed by the dance performance of Egúngún Alágò,̣ whose permanent duty is to open the oor of the dancing arena, dancing before the other egúngún. The reason this arrangement is so crucial is that Egúngún Alágò ̣ is by tradition the most senior egúngún of the sayégún, whom God sent from their heavenly abode to stabilize the chaotic ilé-ayé in the beginning of time/ existence.

Figure 33: Egúngún Alágọ̀ opening the floor

After Egúngún Alágò ̣ had completed his dance performance (i.e. he had danced to all the seven drum patterns/rhythms of gèsé), all the other egúngún who wished to dance moved out to the dancing arena from their seats and displayed their dancing skills in turns. Generally, the best known and most skillful egúngún dance performer is encouraged by the aláàgbáà to dance last; the reason being that the egúngún dance performer who dances best brings that year’s Igbájà Egúngún dance performance to an end. The spectators alike commend that egúngún with the accolade, “this egúngún dance performer had dismissed the crowd!” (Egúngún yìí ti fó’g̣ bo o!), an allusion that that year’s Igbájà Egúngún dance competition had come to an end. For that reason, the egúngún that danced last and dismissed the crowd at the Igbájà Egúngún that was held on Saturday August 7, 2004 was said to be Bíèso-kòkó “just like the cocoa pods”. The name of this egúngún is an allusion to his èḳ ú/agò ̣ costume assemblages, as they were made of carefully cut pieces of cloth of a variety of harmonious colors, each piece skillfully arranged and sewn in a symmetrical pattern. Overall, the physical appeal of Bíèso-kòkó clearly testi es to the abilities of his èḳ ú/agò ̣ shroud-costume designer as a creative artist with a high degree of mastery of all the principles and elements of design.

Figure 34: Bíèso-kòkó dancing at Igbájà Egúngún

As the egúngún dance performers danced one a er the other before Bíèso-kòkó, the best egúngún dancer dismissed the crowd and spectators, including the experienced critics among them who commented on and evaluated the performances of the àyàn, as well as the egúngún dance performers. The author begins with their evaluation of the performance context of the àyàn, who drummed the gèsé drum music with their dùndún drum ensemble. The critics used body gestures, like head nods and verbal praising, such as “may Àyàn, the god of drumming prosper/protect you!” (Àyàn ó gbè ó!̣), to reward the drummers each time they played all the seven drumming patterns/rhythms of gèsé correctly. On the other hand, if any of the seven gèsé drum music patterns/rhythms were not played correctly or when the one that was supposed to be drummed rst does not follow suit (note: this did not occur in 2004), the critics would make such negative body gestures, such as shaking their heads.

Figure 35: Mrs. Adéfúnké̩ Àdùnní Sàádùn chanting Oríkì Egúngún Abídogun

Because the èḳ ú/agò ̣ is the sole emblem of egúngún that conceals or “kills” the human identity of the arèḳ ú, and at the same time makes visible the invisible spirit of the ancestor, èḳ ú/agò ̣ is therefore understood as a sacred insignia of the ancestors. In fact, to the egúngún devotees, èḳ ú/agò ̣ by itself is egúngún that is o en referred to as “my father/ancestor” (Bàbá mi). us, usually during Ìta Egúngún in the o year in which a given egúngún will not appear in public, the elderly female children of the family ancestor egúngún known for being the best chanters of their family ancestor egúngún’s oríkì always go in front of their family èḳ ú/agò ̣ that are displayed inside the ilérun and chant the oríkì, which address the èḳ ú/agò ̣ as Bàbá mi. By tradition, that is the only one case in which any female ọ̀ jẹ/̀ egúngún cult members or devotees are allowed inside the ilérun, to chanting the family egúngún’s praise songs on the èḳ ú/agò ̣ of that egúngún. The following is an example in which the oríkì chanter Adéfúnké ̣ Àdùnní Sàádùn (one of the daughters of Òròlú Èḍ èṇ ímòḅ í Abídogun, the owner of Egúngún Abídogun), addresses the èḳ ú/ agò ̣ of Egúngún Abídogun as Bàbá mi.
Bàbáà mí kú oḍ ún òní ooo Abídolú òòò Okúoḍúnòníooo Abídolú òòò
Babaà mi, Aláàpé ̣ lóde, Aboḍ án reṛ e ̣
È d ̣ è ṃ ò b ̣ í , E n ̣ i t ’ á à á r ò ’ s é ̣ f ú n
Baba Adésoj̣ í, ta ń’ jé ̣ ro’re tí Baba tií sẹ Òròlú moò rojò
My father, happy celebration of today’s festival Abídolú (my father) greetings to you
Happy celebration to you for today’s festival Abídolú (my father) greetings to you
My father, who has an Àpé ̣ and Oḍ án trees in front of his courtyard
Èḍ èṃ òḅ í, you are the one to whom people always relate their poverties Father of Adésoj̣ í, has anybody ever recounted the supports that you, our father had rendered them?
Yet, father Òròlú, would never complain even when his bene ciaries don’t show gratitude.

As clearly shown in this oríkì, the èḳ ú/agò ̣ by itself is egúngún, and no spectators dare critique the aesthetic merits of any egúngún based on physical appearance. And also for the simple fact that egúngún is a spirit being (as is also the case among all the òrìsạ̀ ) whose divinity has elevated him above any mortals that could be judged, no one dares criticize any egúngún based on their physical appearance. The following egúngún-related “sacred words that must come to pass” (àfòṣ ẹ )̣ best illustrate this fact: “Whatsoever evil or immorality that the egúngún commit is forgiven them because of the very fact that their divinity inside the egúngún forest-grove has elevated them above all mortals; so also I must not get punished for every ‘evil’ that I will commit today” (B’éégún se’bi bó se’pa, Igbó-ìgbàlè la ńjì; béẹ̀ ̣ gég̣ ẹ́ ni ohun gbogbo tí mo bá sẹ lónìí kí ódi àsẹ gbé). Babátúndé Lawal has also found another reason the Yorùbá always accept the “freakishness” or whatever evils that any òrìsạ̀ (including Egúngún) do in the Yorùbá philosophical saying àdìtú layé: “ e popular belief is that the cosmos is an unfathomable mystery (àdìtú) and there may be much more behind the actions of the òrìsạ̀ than ordinary mortals can ever comprehend” (Lawal 2005, 166). In fact at Òkèigbó, as elsewhere in Yorùbáland, it is forbidden to even point one’s ngers at any Egúngún lest speak of passing judgement.

The only exception is that the spectators can praise or criticize the family members (o en called the children) of any given egúngún, whose èḳ ú/agò ̣ is beautiful, lthy, or raggedy, but they cannot criticize the egúngún to which the èḳ ú/agò ̣ gave form. For instance, if the physical appearance of a given egúngún is appealing, the spectators may commend his earthly children for honoring their ancestor with such an expensive cloth costume assemblage. But, on the other hand, if the physical appearance of a given egúngún is repulsive, critics may call the children of that given egúngún an array of derogatory names for their failure to show honor or respect to their ancestor, personi ed by the egúngún.

In contrast, because the egúngún dance performers, when honoring the ancestors (with their dance performances), also entertain the spectators at the same time, their dance performances can be critiqued. us, at this level (of the dance performance context), each egúngún is associated with the family owners to which he belongs. is necessitates the egúngún dance performer to display accomplished dance skills, so as not to bring shame on his family. is is re ected in the Yorùbá saying “if a given egúngún dance performer dances impressively, his lineage family-owners will feel overjoyed” (B’éégún eṇ i bá jóo re, orí á yá’ni). By contrast, if, on the other hand, a given egúngún dance performer dances poorly, which is a demonstration of mediocrity, his lineage-family owners will be disheartened.

What constitutes an embarrassing dance performance or an impressive one? Generally speaking, the acoustic patterns of Yorùbá drumming, as earlier explicated, operate as a verbal language or speech surrogate. They are messages that are expected to be discerned or decoded and acted upon or mimed (with dance performance) by any given egúngún dance performer. Hence the reason for referring to the ìlù as “talking drums.” An impressive dance steps are a derivative of the egúngún dance performer’s acquisition of the following aesthetic traits: patience and buoyancy (sùúrù), drumming discernible ear (etí-ìgbóḷù), wisdom (og̣ bóṇ ), insight (òye), and astuteness/cleverness (ìmò)̣ . All these attributes of a skillful egúngún dance performer are subsumed in the Yorùbá saying “the language of drum is conveyed in proverbs; only the knowledgeable dances impressively to its acoustic patterns; while the discerning or astute individual understands or decodes its coded messages” (Bí òwe bí òwe là ńlù’lù ògìdìgbó; oḷóg̣ bóṇ ní jo; òṃ òṛ àn nii mòọ́ )̣ .

For a better understanding of this, an illustration of an egúngún dance performer applying or neglecting the attributes is necessary. A given dùndún lead drummer may drum his ìyáàlù (lead talking drum) to “speak” the following drum’s language-speech directed to a given egúngún dance performer: “if I were you, I would dance with my hands unceasingly; If I were you I would dance with my legs unabatedly; If I were you, I would shake my whole body continuously” (B’ óbá ṣe pe mi nìwo ̣ ni, ǹbá f ’apá jó––f ’apá jó; B’ óbá ṣe pe mi nìwọ ni, ǹbá f’eṣẹ̀ jó––f’eṣẹ̀ jó; B’óbá ṣe pe mi nìwọ ni, ǹbá gbogbo ara gbòṇ rì-rì-rì-rì). But if the poor egúngún dance performer cannot decode the message of the drum’s language-speech (above), he may be doing something else, such as jumping sporadically. Whenever this happens, in order not to embarrass the egúngún dance performer or members of his family openly, the critics o en do not criticize him verbally. Rather, they use body gestures, such as covering their face with the le -hand palm, closing one eye (especially the le one), shaking their heads repeatedly (sideways), and so on. The drummers too, with their drumming (or drum language), may call the egúngún dance performer an array of derogatory names, such as ikún-kò-létí, a kind of squirrel noted for its deafness, an allusion to the egúngún dance performer being deaf or novice when it comes to understanding or decoding the language of the drum. On the contrary, a skillful and experienced egúngún dance performer would respond exactly (with his dance performance) to what the language of drum asked of him. Such a terri c egúngún dance performer is accorded a loud ovation by the spectators.

However, that the egúngún dance performer must do whatever it takes to impress the spectators and bring honor to their lineage family does not mean that they should overdo the dance performance. In fact, a skillful egúngún dance performer is the one who dances moderately (ìwòṇ tún-wòṇ sì) and knows when to stop his dance when the ovation is loudest. The reason for this is that excessive or immoderate dancing may cause the èḳ ú/agò ̣ to fall apart and expose the egúngún dance performer’s concealed human body and identity. us, the following Yorùbá saying speaks to such immoderation, “it is when a given egúngún dances excessively/immoderately that his waistband of charms along with his bare buttock become exposed to the public” (Ijó àjójù ní mú kí Olùwòran rí agba ìdí Egúngún). Generally speaking, the cults of egúngún all over the Yorùbáland discourage an excessive dance performance of egúngún, since it may lead to the falling apart of the èḳ ú/agò,̣ which conceal the unknowable as well as the human identity of the arèḳ ú. For that reason, a result of immoderate dance performance that leads to the exposure of a body part of any given egúngún dance performer is a grievous o ence, which warrants harsh punishment. At Òkèigbó, the cult of egúngún usually bans the erring egúngún from public performance for a period of ve years. In addition, certain undisclosed rituals, which would ward o the bad omens that may follow for exposing the secret (or mystery) of egúngún to the non-initiates, must be performed by the egúngún cult. Unfortunately for the blundering egúngún, he is decreed to bear the entire cost of the monetary expenses of such propitiatory ritual.

Figure 36: Adáradóhùn displaying his dancing steps at Igbájà Egúngún

The author has mentioned that the egúngún dance performer who dances best brings the Igbájà Egúngún dance performance context for that year to an end, and that such an egúngún will be commended with the accolade Egúngún
yìí ti fó’g̣ bo o! What happens after the best egúngún dance performer has dismissed the crowd? Using the Ìgbájà Egúngún dance competition that was held on Saturday August 13, 2016 as an illustration, the following is the author’s eyewitness account of what happened a er the dismissal of the crowd by Adáradóhùn (a popular egúngún that is also noted for his poetic songs), the best egúngún dance performer for that year, 2016. All the egúngún that participated in the Igbájà Egúngún (on Saturday August 13, 2016) along with their individual egúngún lineage family members held bunches of leaves in their hands, which they whisked continuously in the air, as if they were chasing away ies, as they paraded the streets. They started the parade from the oḅ a’s marketplace (the center of the town) and ended at the outskirts of the town facing the road leading to a nearby Ondo community, where they all discarded those bunches of leaves and then retired to their respective homes. I was informed that the participants whisking bunches of leaves everywhere on the streets and later discarding the leaves in the bushes on the outskirts of the town was an allusion to the spiritual cleansing of the town, which wards o evil and chases away all the imminent catastrophes from the community. In this way, the market/earth cleansing (Ìgbájà Egúngún) is a further con rmation of Oḍ ún Egúngún as a form of ancestor veneration, a spiritual device for driving death away from the individual egúngún-lineage family compounds and promoting the wellbeing of the devotees/townspeople. It also testi es to the origin and signi cance of egúngún found in Odù Òẉ òṛ ìn-Aséỵ ìn, which describes them as sayégún, the heavenly spirits sent by Olódùmarè to come and “stabilize the world of the living” when it was threatened with collapse.

Language of Drum for Egungun as an inciting and actionprompting vehicle
As already established in this study, the role of àyàn, who drum for the egúngún, especially during Igbájà Egúngún, and thereby provide an avenue for individual egúngún to display their dancing skills, is fundamental within the Oḍ ún Egúngún. However, it needs to be stressed that the signi cance of ìlù as a vital Yorùbá traditional musical instrument goes beyond this level. In actuality, the drumbeats of the dùndún drum ensemble––especially those of the talking drum ìyáàlù that functions as a speech surrogate, mimicking the human voice and which can therefore understood as having its own language, that of the drum––entail an action-prompting vehicle that is powerfully inciting and energizing. The author illustrates this point with the following episode of an eyewitness account, which was caused chie y by the nature of the given language of drum (i.e. the drum’s speech) that were drummed for Egúngún Aláwop̣ álà in the year 1912.

The episode occurred during that year’s Oḍ ún Egúngún between Egúngún Aláwop̣ álà and Aaron Òbísèṣ an, a Christian resident of Òkèigbó, which resulted in his death. For a better understanding of the circumstances surrounding this deadly episode, a knowledge of the background history of the religious landscape of Òkèigbó in the period (late 1800s–early 1900s) of which the episode was symptomatic, is necessary. In January 1899, when Christianity was newly brought to Òkèigbó, both the new converts and those that would not (under any circumstances) do away with their indigenous religious beliefs and practices lived together peacefully for at least a few days. However, things started to change when the town was greeted with incessant clashes between the new Christian converts and the adherents of the community’s traditional religion, for instance Egúngún, Orò, Àlúkú, Edì, Oḷój̣ ó ̣ (also known as Ògún), among others.

Many local historians in Òkèigbó believe that the mêlées between the newly converted Christians and the community’s òrìsạ̀ devotees were o en caused by some of the Christian converts, who habitually seized or looted their family’s religious carvings at night and then destroyed them, at their urging of their pastors. Actions such as these were rationalized and justi ed on grounds that images and idols of traditional religions needed to be destroyed so as to make sure that the “devilish beliefs and uncivilized traditions” were eradicated at once. For instance, on January 5, 1899, David Débóokú con scated some religious carvings from his family’s ojúbo,̣ where members of his family venerated their ancestor spirits, which he shamed and exhibited as idols in a nearby Ondo town. A few days later, on January 15, 1899, another new Christian convert––whose original Yorùbá name was Òjó Akínwándé but took the name David following his conversion to Christianity––cast into the nearby Òṇ i River the “Igbá Odù, which he inherited from his father…Christians broke taboos and traditions with de ance during festivals” (Babajide 2005, 64).
On that fateful day in 1912, during that year’s Oḍ ún Egúngún, as Aláwop̣ álà was emerging from Egúngún’s forest grove (igbó-ìgbàlè)̣ , he was greeted/ hailed with the following drumbeats of the talking drum ìyáàlù (in the dùndún drum ensemble), which carried the following action prompting message (of the language of drum) to Aláwop̣ álà, inciting and calling the egúngún to skirmish:

Aláwop̣ álà, Gbángbálà, Olóyèdé Òj̣ è ̣
Rùgùdú koṇ rùgùdú!
Ìkòṭún Arí’dà d’ogò ní’lé Oḷóṭí
Òṭún Onílòḳ ó,̣ wóṇ ti mú’dà woṇ a lèle
Ò s ì O n í l ò ḳ ó , ̣ w ó ṇ t i m ú ’ d à w o ṇ a d è r ̣ ò ̣ Agbedegbédé Onílòḳ ó,̣ wóṇ ti mú’dà woṇ jèṛán lórí Aláwop̣ álà, oò kòṇ̀ kòṭì sạ ?
Eṇ i o pé oó pa, ìgbàwo lo pá?
Má mà pá sí kòṛ ò,̣ gbangba ni o pá sí Síò,̣ emi lò ńbá kiri!
Aláwop̣ álà, descendant of Gbángbálà and of Olóyèdé Òj̣ è ̣

What a brave personality!
Ìkòṭun who threatens/duns a debtor with his sword till the person settles his/her debt

The masculine-trait Ìlòḳ ó,̣ are brutal with the sword
But the feminine-trait Ìlòḳ ó ̣ are so with the sword
e brave Ìlòḳ ó ̣ that we know never hesitates to assault with the sword Aláwop̣ álà, why can’t you assault with your sword?
By the way, when did you kill the person you swore to kill?
Don’t kill him/her in secret, you should instead kill him/her in public
Shame on you that you have not ful lled your promise!
As this above calling into action praise chant (oríkì) that was being drummed with ìyáàlù (dùndún) intensi ed, all the bystanders/spectators started to run away from the egúngún for fear of the imminent unpleasant reaction by Aláwop̣ álà, to the language of the drum, as seen above. But there was someone by the name Aaron Òbísèṣ an, himself a former egúngún devotee before he converted to Christianity and who therefore knew the egúngún cult’s secrets, who remained unmoved. He stood in a confrontational stance in front of the egúngún (Aláwop̣ álà). Within a second, both had started to engage in a ght-tonish scenario that claimed the life of Mr. Aaron Òbísèṣ an. is led to a big street ght that ensued between the adherents of egúngún on one side, and the Christian converts on the other side. It took the effort of the district o cer at Ondo (Òkèigbó was at that time part of Ondo Province) to restore peace between the Christians and the followers of Egúngún and other forms of traditional religion in the community.14

Since then, a number of precautionary measures have been put in place, and they have proven successful many times. Among them is the designation of someone among the members of each of the egúngún lineages to serve as their family’s egúngún bodygaurd (atóḳ ùn egúngún), who follows the egúngún everywhere. In particular, every warrior egúngún (egúngún ológun)–– such as Egúngún Aláwop̣ álà, Akíngbadé, and Aróḅ atè–̣ –is obliged to have an atóḳ ùn egúngún. It is the responsibility of that atóḳ ùn egúngún to make sure the egúngún doesn’t have access to any dangerous emblems, such as weapons, belonging to that egúngún whenever being incited by the language (or surrogated speech-message) of the talking drum. An example excerpted from theearliercitedonewas“Aláwop̣álà,whycan’tyouassaultwithyoursword? By the way, when did you kill the person you swore to kill?” (Aláwop̣ álà, oò kòṇ̀ kòṭì sa? Eṇ i o pé oó pa, ìgbàwo lo pá?) For that reason, all the weapons owned by an individual egúngún ológun are kept only for display in the hands of the atóḳ ùn egúngún. Similarly, to be an atóḳ ùn egúngún required that one be very skillful when it comes to understanding and deciphering/decoding the language of the drum. So, for instance, when the talking drum says “whack or assault him/her with a weapon if he/she refuses to run away from you” (Ta làbìlàbì jo, b’óbá kò,̣ b’óbá kò ̣ tì kò sá, ta làbìlàbì jo), the atóḳ ùn egúngún will handle the egúngún with an àtòrì, instead of an assault weapon like a machete or a sword.

Figure 37a: Èk̩ ú-Agò̩ Egúngún Abídogun
Figure 37b: Egúngún Abídogun

Another precautionary measure that I found intriguing concerns Egúngún Abídogun. Bàbá Israel Olóyèdé (aka Folly), the wearer of the shroud-costumer (àwòrò-arèḳ ù) of Egúngún Abídogun did inform me that in the olden days, there had been no time that Egúngún Abídogun had not beheaded at least someone whenever he appeared in public every other year. at perpetual unpleasant scenario had led the family (of Egúngún Abídogun) to take drastic precautionary measures, and they redesigned the èḳ ú/agò ̣ of Egúngún Abídogun without the hand sleeves. us, now without the hand sleeves, Egúngún Abídogun was unable to handle anything, not even an àtòrì––and certainly not a sword or machete––during the egúngún’s public appearance every other year. It is said that the human skull, which today adorns the headdress of Egúngún Abídogun, belonged to the last victim that he beheaded before the hand sleeves of his èḳ ú/agò ̣ were detached as a precautionary measure.

The nal precautionary measure discussed in this study is that today (in which no one is above the law), the àyàn too are now legally (and morally) obligated to keep warning their clients (the egúngún) of the imminent danger as well as the consequences (in terms of a heavy punishment), should any egúngún carry out or put to action that which the drum’s language-speech (or message) has instructed. Such warning language that the drummers get across with their talking drumbeats to their egúngún clients includes the following:

B’óbá burú tán
Ìwo ̣ nìkan ní ó kù B ’ ó ṛ à n b á d é ’ l è ̣ t á n Ìwo ̣ nìkan ní ó kù
If you act foolishly and things get nasty a erwards
You are the only one that would face the full wrath of the law If things get ugly and become catastrophic
You are the only one who will face the full wrath of the law
Study Re ections

As has been elucidated in this study, African art, speci cally among the Yorùbá, and as Rowland Abiodun’s body of scholarly works have proved, is an oríkì that exists both in visual and verbal forms. is study has also added “performance,” speci cally the language of ìlù along with the egúngún performance actions, as the third form of Yorùbá art as oríkì. Consequently, the study has established that a critical study and understanding of Yorùbá art, in addition to its “appreciation,” requires the mastery of Yorùbá, the language of the people who gave the art its form and content. The study has suggested, as is also well put and illustrated in Rowland Abiodun’s groundbreaking 2014 work, Yoruba Art and Language: Seeking the African in African Art, that Yorùbá art is oríkì, whose history, meaning, and cultural relevance are subsumed primarily in its verbal form. Hence the need for a command or near-mastery of the Yorùbá language at the levels of speaking, writing, and reading for any meticulous study and/or better knowledge of the art. Finally, the study has also established the relationship existing between the àyàn and egúngún, a form of ìwà that exists in the èḥ ìn-ìwà, and can always manifest in physical form through a religious device called Oḍ ún Egúngún, which is fundamental to the understanding of the art and ritual of egúngún.

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