EGUNGUN really means "bone," hence "skeleton," and Egungun himself is supposed to be a man risen from the dead. The part is acted by a man disguised in a long robe, usually made of grass, and a mask of wood, which generally represents a hideous human face, with a long pointed nose and thin lips, but sometimes the head of an animal.

Egungun appears in the streets by day or night indifferently, leaping, dancing, or walking grotesquely, and uttering loud cries. He is supposed to have returned from the land of the dead in order to ascertain what is going on in the land of the living, and his function is to carry away those persons who are troublesome to their neighbors. He may thus be considered a kind of supernatitral [sic] inquisitor who appears from time to time to inquire into the general domestic conduct of people, particularly of women, and to punish misdeeds. 

Although it is very well known that Egungun is only a disguised man, yet it is popularly believed that to touch him, even by accident, causes death.

A crowd always stands round watching, at a respectful distance, the gambols of an Egungun, and one of the chief amusements of the performer is to rush suddenly towards the spectators, who fly before him in every direction in great disorder, to avoid the fatal touch. To raise the hand against Egungun is punished with death, and women are forbidden, on pain of death, to laugh at him, speak disparagingly of him, or say he is not one who has risen from the dead. "May Egungun cut you in pieces," is an imprecation often heard.


Egungun is thus at the present day a sort of "bogey," or make-believe demon, whose chief business is to frighten termagants, busybodies, scandalmongers, and others, but it seems probable that originally he was regarded as the incarnation of the dead, and that the whole custom is connected with manes-worship. In June there is an annual feast for Egungun lasting seven days, during which lamentations are made for those who have died within the last few years. It is a kind of All-Souls festival... Moreover, Egungun also appears in connection with funeral ceremonies."

The Egungun wear flamboyant sequin-spangled capes adorned with animal and human motifs. Their faces were veiled by cowry shell screens and it is said to be bad luck if you see their eyes

Egun masks represent the spirits of the deceased and according to the locals; they “are” the deceased. The men wearing the masks representing Egun are initiates of the cult. Dressed in brightly multicolored clothing, they emerge from the forest and form a procession through the streets of the village, leaping towards any foolish spectator who dares to get too close. You don’t want the Egun to touch you because if he does; there is a danger of death, so watch out! Some people touched by the Egun immediately collapse but fortunately they recover instantly. When they arrive, the masks perform a kind of bull fight which is designed to scare the crowd but instead is greeted with bursts of laughter!



The Zangbeto mask is very tall and covered with colored straw. It represents wild non human spirits (the forces of nature and of the night that inhabited the Earth before human beings). The mask wearers belong to a secret society and keep their identity hidden as the non-initiated cannot know who they are. When Zangbeto comes out, it is a big important event for the village. Its performance guarantees protection against bad spirits and malicious people. The spinning movement of the mask symbolizes the spiritual cleaning of the village and Zangbeto also performs miracles to prove its powers


All along the coast of Benin and Togo, Voodoo, an animist religion, gathers a lot of followers together. Passed down by the ancestors, it is still practiced with fervor today. The religious experience is much richer and more complex than westerners can imagine. These voodoo practices are not a form of black magic. To millions both here and abroad Voodoo represents a religion that gives meaning and order to their lives. In a village we join in a Voodoo ceremony: The frenetic rhythm of the drums and the chants of the followers help to invoke the voodoo spirit who takes possession of some of the dancers who fall into a deep state of trance. Traditional healers treat illnesses with local herbs and also by offering sacrifices to the numerous fetish altars that fill their courtyard. The God “Fa” is an esoteric divinity consulted by people to solve their everyday big or small life issues. A fetish priest interprets the answers to the listening adept. Each year, January 10th is a special day in in Benin. Everybody celebrates the ancestral cults..

In particular, on January 10th, all the Voodoo’s adepts meet in Ouidah. A long procession of the adepts, some by foot, some by motorbike, some by taxy brousse, moves to the Door of Non Return. All are dressed in traditional costumes , white is the dominant colour along with the colourful beads. The festival has its peak with the arrival of the Dagbo Houno, the chief feticheur of Ouidah. Dances, libations, masks (some official speech) feature the morning.

The first part of the festival ends at about 15h00 and then it continues in the city. Peoples are never tired to exalting their voodoos. All of them reach a large square where the Eguns masks come togheter. Masks come for dancing, chasing away the bad spirits , and playing with people like a kind of “corrida”.

In the evening Ouidah is exhausted but not yet fully satisfied. The festival goes on in the depths of the courtyards, waiting to meet again the next year so renewing the faith in Voodoo.

Voodoo, a traditional religion on the Gulf of Guinea Coast



Sunday, October 23, 2011

Comparative Traditions - Masquerades & Whirling Dances

Edited by Azizi Powell

Black and Blond – The Origin of Blonde Afros in Melanesia. (2014, April 16). Retrieved June 20, 2015, from http://www.odditycentral.com/tag/melanesia