Egungun costume

Yoruba peoples
c. 1975
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General Description

This colorful, lavishly decorated, and much used Egungun costume is made of imported corduroy and velvet, sequins, yarns, threads, brass bells, and chain links, as well as cowrie shells, which were used as currency before the introduction of coins and paper money. It has two layers of lappets, each distinguished by materials and decoration. The upper or outer layer is heavily sequined; the second layer is comprised of more sparsely sequined lappets made of cotton cloth or corduroy with appliquéd animals, reptiles, and geometric designs, and gold embossed flocked cloth. The geometric designs are stylized Islamic motifs also found on mosques, men’s robes, and leather goods. As with the top lappets, the second-layer lappets are lined with European prints and trade cloth. The costume covers the dancer from head to toe (the gloves, trousers, and socks are missing). The cowrie-embroidered mesh panel covering the face allows the dancer to see.

During the annual Egungun festival, Yoruba ancestors come home. Through masked dancers wearing costumes like this one, the ancestors spin and twirl around, causing the costume’s colorful panels to fly out in all directions, giving “breezes of blessings.”

Adapted from

  • Roslyn A. Walker, Label text, Arts of Africa, 2015.
  • Roslyn A. Walker, DMA unpublished material, 2008.

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