Mudcat Café message #1651197 The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #88125   Message #1651197
Posted By: Azizi
18-Jan-06 - 06:20 PM
Thread Name: Iko Iko
Subject: RE: Iko Iko
Some may consider that I've drifted far from the lyrics of the Mardi Gras Indian song, "Iko Ikp". However, my interest is in the culture that produced the song, and how the song is presented {performed} and not just the song's lyrics.

And so, there's no doubt that Iko Iko came from the Mardi Gras Indians. There is less certainity as to whether the African Americans who masks as Indians are linked to the Yoruba {Nigeria, West Africa} Egungun ceremonies. But I think it's a concept worth exploring.

Here's another description of Egungun:
The Egungun are masked men who represent the spirits of the living-dead. Some say they derive their name from the Yoruba word for "bones" or "skeleton," yet according to Babayemi, the correct pronunciation of the word in Yoruba means "masquerade." The Egungun appears as "a robed figure which is designed specially to give the impression that the deceased is making a temporary reappearance on earth" (Idowu 208). This impression is enhanced by the complete coverage of the individual. "It is absolutely essential that not a single particle of the human form should be visible; for, if this rule is broken, the man wearing the dress must die (presumably as an imposter!), and every woman present must likewise die" (Farrow 76). Having any contact whatsoever with an Egungun can prove deadly for both the Egungun and the other person, so a whip is often carried to drive people away. "Should he do so ever so slightly (e.g. if the wind caused his garment to barely touch the garment of any ordinary man, woman or child) he would be put to death, together with the person (man or woman) whom he touched, or by whom he was touched, and so also would every woman present" (77). While these policies have changed since British colonization, there is still great respect for the mysterious Egungun.

The costumes of the Egungun vary greatly from region to region. Some Egungun cover themselves in raffia, while others are concealed under an elaborate costume of cloth. The masks they wear may be carved of wood, made of contemporary materials, or composed of such found objects as antlers, skulls or even modern gas masks. In some regions it is popular to cover the face with cloth instead of a mask. This is often combined with a long train of fabric that trails behind the Egungun; the longer and more elaborate the train, the wealthier the family. To complete the illusion, the Egungun must also disguise his voice, which is often disguised in a low rumble or high falsetto.

There are numerous Yoruba myths that explain the origins of these masked spirits. One such myth says that when a man dies his spirit joins the ancestors to become an Egungun. When the body is covered from head to toe for burial, so is the Egungun in heaven, which is why they appear completely covered when they appear on this plane."

Source: Egungun: the masked ancestors of the Yoruba by Laura Strong, PhD