Textile Society of America


Date of this Version



Crosscurrents: Land, Labor, and the Port. Textile Society of America's 15th Biennial Symposium. Savannah. GA. October 19-23. 2016.


Copyright 2016 by Rebecca Summerour and Odile Madden.


Egúngún masquerades are traditions in which composite ensembles are worn and danced to commemorate lineage ancestors in West African Yoruba communities. This technical analysis of two 20th century Egúngún in the collection of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art (NMAfA), referred to as 2005-2-1 and 2009-15-1 (fig. 1), investigates materials in these colorful costumes. The Yoruba are a cultural group rooted in Southwestern Nigeria, Benin, and Togo with a diaspora in Africa and the Americas. In their traditional belief system, Egúngún are the embodiment of lineage ancestors. Fully concealed maskers incarnate individual or collective spirits, providing opportunity for the deceased or those yet to be born to connect with their communities. Typically brought out during annual Egúngún festivals, they perform various tasks while accompanied by singing, chanting, and drumming. They dance with athletic swirling motions, honoring their ancestral strength and power. Men usually make the ensembles although women can be involved. Materials, donated by lineage family members, are chosen for their symbolism and availability. Components can predate or postdate assembly, as the ensembles can be performed over many years, with lappets or other items added or subtracted over time.