Egungun is part of the Yoruba pantheon of divinities. The Yoruba religious system is sometimes referred to as the ‘Yoruba Religion’ or simply ‘Orisa Worship’.
In the tradition of Orisa and ancestor worship, the Egungun represents the “collective spirit” of the ancestors. Ancestor worship or reverence is everywhere in traditional Africa and Egungun is part of this worship.
Ancestors assure a place for the dead among the living. It is their responsibility to compel the living to uphold the ethical standards of past generations. Egungun is celebrated in festivals (Odun Egungun) and family ritual through the masquerade or custom. In family situations a family elder or Alagba presides over ancestral rites and may or may not be initiated into the local Egungun society.
But in community settings, Egungun priests and initiates that are trained in ancestral communication, ancestral elevation work and funeral rites are placed in charge of invoking and bringing out the ancestors. Elaborate costumes adorn the Egungun masqueraders (dancers) and through drumming and dance, these dancers become possessed with the spirits of the ancestors.
The Egungun then spiritually cleanse the community and through exaggerated acting/miming demonstrate both ethical and amoral behavior that occurred since their last visit, exposing the strengths and weaknesses of a community with hopes of encouraging behavior more befitting of their descendants.
Once this occurs, messages, warnings and blessings are doled out to spectators. Some important Egungun include Oloolu, Alapansanpa, both of Ibadan land, Alamudu and Aladoko in Akure, Egemurege in Ado Ekiti, Omormo in Akokoland, Gbegbe in Iragbiji, Elewe of the Ìgbómìnà Yoruba sub-ethnics, which is common in the towns of Òkè-Ìlá Òràngún, Ìlá Òràngún, and Arandun