Epa is the name given to a specific system of religious worship; a sacred society within Yoruba culture. It is also known by its alternative name, Elefon. This particular faith can be found in Ekiti state, SW Nigeria. Worship includes masquerade with dancers wearing decorated headdresses that are carved out of singular blocks of wood and weighing as much as 30 kilograms. Dancers wearing this hefty superstructure on top of their head are demonstrating their strength and prowess – the dance becomes a test of endurance.

Epa masquerade celebrates the continuity of tradition and is authorised by the king. These headdresses are dedicated to the great Ekiti carver Oleko, who created the first Epa mask of its kind. When worn in procession, the mask honours important Ekiti ancestors – one can see this by examining the rich carving of a central standing female form flanked by a smaller adult women on either side. She appears to be wearing a formal crown and is adorned with jewellery on her ears and around the neck, whilst carrying a child on her back, a fan and an umbrella in her hands. This carving conveys presence and strength. This specific figure represents a powerful female noble (chief) who represents the interests of women in dealings with the king and the senior chief’s council.

When not in use, these masks are displayed inside shrines where they become the focus of more personal ceremonies.

According to a report in the museum archives, this headdress was taken from a so-called “fetish” house in the town of Eruku, in the Yagba state, North East Yoruba in 1899, by officers of the Royal Niger Company and given to Lieutenant Colonel William Hamilton Broun, circa 1899. The artist’s name is unknown.

H. 1230 mm.

Object Summary

Accession Loan No.
Collection Class
Religion and magic
Collection Area Region
Common Name
Simple Name
Production Town
Production County
Kwara; ?Yagba State
Production Country
Production Year High

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helmet mask (Epa)