Andrea Gabrieli

Location: Pavullo nel Frignano
Nationality: Italian
Biography: I'm a travel photographer, I love trekking, mountain, and to discover remote place of the earth. I visited many times Asia regions: Karakorum range in Pakistan (Baltoro and Biafo glacier), Ladakh, Himachal Pradesh, Rajasthan (holy festival)... MORE
Public Story
Copyright Andrea Gabrieli 2023
Updated Feb 2023
Location Ouidah, Benin
Topics Africa, Animism, Arts & Entertainment, Benin, Egungun, Energy, Ethnic minorities, History, Journalism, Music, Photography, Religion, Spirituality, Travel
Egungun ceremony in Benin. During this ceremony Yoruba people (a West African ethnic group) dance in elaborated masques and costumes to call family ancestors.
Benin is the homeland of animism. Animism in south America, despite some differences and evolutions, has its origin in this African country.
Here we are at a special ceremony, where Yoruba people (a West African ethnic group) dance in elaborated masques and costumes to call family ancestors. The spirits of ancestors come, through the masks, into our living world. Egungun masks impersonate these spirits, and act as they would be present again in our world, so it is a ceremony in honor of the dead, where ancient spirits can communicate with living people and family members, giving ethical suggestions, saying how community should live, and essentially cleaning the community. It has a powerful and positive impact on society rules, regulating community style of life. Masques are a sort of guides, and people follow instructions and listen carefully to cryptic messages Egungun tell to them. In other world, Egungun, with their masks, are medium to make real again the presence of ancestors.
Clothes hidden all the body, and are built with expensive textiles, to show the prestige of the family as well as the power of the ancestors. Not all families can buy or create these masques, but only the richest families can do it. There are public ceremony, as well as private ones. The meaning and the masques are elaborated and complex. There are single ancestor spirits, as well as common spirits belonged to all the community, or dead king spirits.
The masque must cover all body, to hidden the identity of the man dancing. when a man becomes a spirit, he looses his identity to act as a pure spirit.
Many percussions sound before dance, to create the suitable atmosphere.
Egungun entered in the field. They didn't dance all together. Some were sitting, other ones started to dance.
Sometimes a masque was spinning its lappets. As the masque whirls, the lappets seem to fly, creating a so called "breeze of blessing": it is another scenographic way to connect people to divinity.
Red clothes spinning was very hypnotic and wonderful. I used a bit longer exposure time (just 1/125 sec) to recreate motion effect.
Masques came very close to us, but we couldn't touch them, it is denied, and the meaning is that if a masque touch one person, it means that this person probably will die soon. So there was a guardian, belonged to so called secret society, with a stick, kept masques not too much closer from the crowd.
Again dance and whirls, with percussions sound, creating a magic feeling, a spiritual presence was here!  Metallic objects on clothes caught the light while the masque moves, creating flashes that inspire connection with the spirits.
Sometimes masques came near the musicians, never touching them.
They often exchanged lappets between them, launching with incredible precision the clothes on the heads of another masque.
Some amulets and horns were on the clothes, increasing the power of the masque. Some amulets hold also some medical potions.
Some masques made also a tribute of the spirit to an relevant member of the family.
At the end of the ceremony, masques stayed in front of the altar, to pray ancestors and divinity and to receive messages from the other world.
No woman can use masks. They help to create clothes, but they can't dance or actively partecipate to this ceremony: elders say that this separation is because of the dangers of women power...

Benin, Ouidah town.
Pictures taken with Nikon D800 (70-200 F4) and Sony Alpha 7iii (24-70 F2.8).  
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