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Yoruba Layewu mask

Yoruba Layewu mask
Yoruba Layewu maskYoruba Layewu maskYoruba Layewu maskYoruba Layewu mask
Tribe: Yoruba
Country: Nigeria
Ritual: Egungun
Name: Layewu
Materials: Wood, paint
Provenance: Douglas Foster Collection circa 1960, Tookalook Gallery Canada, Suaga Collection 2009
Comments: Douglas Foster was a Canadian diplomat who lived in Africa in the late 1950s and early 1960s. He collected quite a bit of old material and eventually went back to Canada to become a dealer in the 1970s out of Canada. Based on this information coupled with the style, patination and wear I estimate the age at circa 1930-40.

Egungun masquerades are found throughout Yorubaland and are associated with the veneration of ancestors who are believed capable of helping the living community if they are properly honoured. Egungun, like the ancestors they are associated with are identified with specific families, playing a regulatory role and serve as a link between the living and dead.

A distinctive sub type is the Egungun Layewu. This masquerade is the privilege of chief hunters and is ritually celebrated by members of his family and those hunters allied with him in the hunt. The masquerade usually appears during the festival for orisha Ogun, god of iron and deity of hunters and on any other occasion when a hunters group deems it appropriate.

The hair tufts on this mask indicate that the mask is male. Hunters wore their hair long and braided into a tail at the back of their head, covering incisions in the scalp where medicines had been inserted. A two-tufted Layewu style, can be seen in Plate 26 in William Faggs book, Yoruba Sculpture of West Africa.

The cheeks on this mask bear the 3 marks of the Egba Yoruba.

There is an air of the sacred attached to the Egungun and to their rites and celebrations. They are prepared in a sacred grove. Prayers are said, ifa is cast, and charms are attached to the body of the masker and placed within the costume. Donning the costume the masker is depersonalised and ritually transformed into the human repository for the spirit of the returning ancestor.


  1. Yoruba Sculpture of West Africa, William Fagg, Alfred A Knopf,1982
  2. Spirits Speak: A Celebration of African Masks, Prestel 2005 The Tribal Arts of Africa, J.B. Bacquart. 1998.
  3. A History of African Art, Harry. N. Abrams Inc Publisher NY 2001. Masks of Black Africa. Ladislas Segy. 1976.