Egungun, the Living Memorial: Dance of the Ancestors

Religion, Death and the Senses - Christina Welch

Olu Taiwo [+-]
University of Winchester
Dr Olu Taiwo is Senior lecturer in Physical theatre, Acting and Movement at the University of Winchester. He has a background in Fine art, Street performance art, African percussion and various martial arts. He has performed nationally and internationally in performances and lecture demonstrations promoting concepts surrounding practice as research, including how practice explores relationships between ‘effort’, and ‘performative actions.


This chapter will examine the concept of the Egungun, the practice of the living memorial, as a dance for the ancestors. In the ancient Yoruba tradition, Egungun-Oya is an orisha of divination. Egungun refers to the collective spirits of the ancestral dead. Egunguns are considered to be the children of the Orisha Oya, who is popularly known as the Orisha of extreme weather, examples being; lightning, heavy storms, tornadoes, raging waterfalls and earthquakes. She is also linked with funerals and cemeteries. This is part of her responsibility of carrying the souls of the dead and departed to the afterlife. In practice, Egunguns are masquerades where the body of a percipient performer is completely covered from head to toe by thick layers of cloth, who then proceeds to masquerades by parading in a festive community setting with musician and ritual guards with long sticks with whips to playfully clear a path for the occasion. The word Egungun literally means ‘powers concealed’; metaphorical with the dry bones of our ancestors. Egunguns are mobile, visually colourful, and performative displays of the departed spirits concerning our ancestors. They are seen as revisiting us periodically to remind the living, the importance of keeping the ancestors alive in the minds of our human community. The dance performance is an expression and practice of remembrance, celebration, and blessings as we realise the integrated symbiosis between the ancestor, the living and the unborn.

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Taiwo, Olu. Egungun, the Living Memorial: Dance of the Ancestors. Religion, Death and the Senses. Equinox eBooks Publishing, United Kingdom. Jun 2024. ISBN 9781000000000. Date accessed: 26 Nov 2022 doi: 10.1558/equinox.43886. Jun 2024

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