Photos The shell-encrusted Oblameji mask portrays a noisy, evil troublemaker. He speaks in a low, guttural voice to convey messages from the world of the spirits.The red-caped Alabala mask signifies power and danger. Symbolically representing the red patas monkey, who according to legend became the first Egungun masquerader, the Alabala mask evokes all the agile grace and mischeviousness of its ancestor.A hybrid of bush creature, human, and ancestral spirit, the Alabala Mask is considered a perfect symbol of balance and transcendence, and serves as a powerful communicator between this world and the next.Egungun masks enter the village accompanied by ritual guardians who are mediators between the masks and the outside world. The masks are stimulated by the rhythms of the drums and the guardians must maintain a sense of calm throughout the highly charged proceedings.The Paka Mask, with its flowing costume of appliqueed strips of cloth, twirls before the crowd with complete abandon. Though ritual guardians are normally able to inhibit the more dangerous movements of masks, a mask will occsionally charge out of control, knocking people down and injuring them.Covered in leaf shaped panels of cloth lavishly embroidered with mirrors and sequins, the dangerous Tahe mask spins madly around the village. During his dance, the Tahe Mask chases groups of terrified children, who scatter to avoid being touched. Believing that the touch of the mask spells death, the youngsters watch the spectacle with great trepidation. Should a mask actually touch a spectator, the emotion of the moment is so strong that the person will often collapse into a trance.Distinctive Eegun Amokekeke masks with black and white striped faces represent twins, who among the Yoruba, have a high mortality rate. The rituals performed by these masks are directed to the mythical black and white striped colobus monkey, considered the half human totem of a twin cult. The dances of these masks representing the spirirts of dead children are attended mainly by women.Enshrined like a sacred sculpture, its head painted with orange palm oil, the Egun Bla mask is one of the oldest and most feared masks in the Egun pantheon. Libations, gifts, and sacrifices are made to the Egun Bla mask which occupies the center of the shrine and is worshipped as a deity. To appease its vengeful spirit, Egun Bla believers sometimes buy new robes for the mask which are placed on top of the old ones and serve as a multi-layered record of devotion.The Egun Bla’s bib, embedded with many skulls, bones, and charms, embodies so much power that it is believed that if the Egun Bla speaks to an individual through one of these objects the person will be driven insane.Cloth plays an extremely important role in Yoruba culture; the exotic weaves, patterns, and textiles worn by elders and chiefs signify social power and prestige. The luxurious fabrics worn by the chiefs attending the arrival of the Egungun masks display their wealth and social standing.Iridescent with shimmering fabrics, Paka masks display the wealth and social standing of their owners. These masks are traditionally regarded as the physical manifestations of Yoruba ancestral power, so considerable sums are spent by Egungun society on their sumptuous fabrics.Egungun Paka masks act as a visual metaphor, cloth plays an important role in Yoruba culture: the exotic weaves, patterns and textures signify prestige. Nakedness, or a lack of cloth, is associated with infancy, insanity or worst of all, a failure of social responsibility. In ritual performances honoring the ancestors, exquisite fabrics are the major medium for the masker’s transformation into a messenger of the spirit. By enclosing the Ara Orun or “citizen of heaven” in a cage of cloth, the power of the ancestor is simultaneously concealed and revealed within the world of the living.As the dance of the Paka mask becomes more ecstatic, the vibrant fabric panels of its costume begin to fly around, turning the mask into a blur of color. The Yoruba believe that the breeze stirred up by the whirling dance of an Egungun mask brings security and the promise of good fortune to those close enough to feel it.