Pan Africanism : Ancestral Masquerade Performances among the Yoruba

Discussion in 'African American History Culture' started by Corvo, May 4, 2012.

  1. Corvo

    Corvo navigator of live MEMBER

    United States
    May 9, 2003
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    Furniture maker, a sculptor, and fight instructor
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    Henry John Drewal
    Whirling Cloth, Breeze of Blessing: Ancestral Masquerade Performances among the Yoruba.

    For Yoruba-speaking peoples in West Africa, cloth is equated with their most precious possession, children. The proverb omo l'aso eda, "children are the clothes of a person," points out that children, like clothes, are what one shows to the world and is judged accordingly.1 Valuable textiles are what Yoruba use to celebrate the power and presence of their ancestors in exquisite masquerade ensembles known as Egungun.
    In the world of Yoruba-speaking peoples, Egungun is the masquerade tradition that honors one category of spiritual beings--ancestors--those departed who are no longer present in physical form but who are still present in spirit. While these usually occur as annual festivals of remembrance, renewal, and re-dedication, they also take place at special occasions such as funeral celebrations or at moments of social crisis and catharsis like droughts, epidemics, or social upheavals. Yorubas use the full range of their artistic imaginations and powers of inventiveness (imoju mora) to give visible, tangible form and substance to the normally invisible presence of ancestral spirits. Using the unique qualities of textiles--their textures, colors, weight and flexibility--they create moving (both literally and figuratively) experiences of the spirits of their departed loved ones.

    For Yoruba, these performances are serious business. At the same time, they are also serious play (ere), for Yoruba are creating an elaborate multi-media and multi-sensorial event that is meant to please and honor ancestors who, like all of us, enjoy homage and respect, as well as a good laugh! Thus many Egungun ensembles impress with their sumptuous materials and symbols of power and prestige, while others provoke laughter in their humorous or satiric portrayal of human (and divine) foibles. Yoruba strive to put on a good spectacle (aworan), a party for their departed family and community members. For Yoruba, the playfulness and surprise of improvisation are essential for the success of any artistic endeavor, whether object or event. Inviting the return of ancestors is to play with forms and ideas in order to make onlookers think in new ways about their world: not only about the shared past and imagined future, but themselves and the conduct of their mortal lives.

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