Wednesday 7 December 2022

How Adepegba's 'Egúngún Costumes', other scholars' theses picked 2022 Rahamon Bello Awards

Award donor, Prof Folasade Rahamon Bello (left); recipients, Dr John Olatunde Mariase Uwa, Dr Henrietta Omo Eshalomi, Dr Kehinde Adepegba; and VC, University of Lagos, Prof Folashade Ogunsola during the awards presentation.

DR. HENRIETTA Omo Eshalomi, Dr. Kehinde Adepegba, and Dr. John Olatunde Mariase Uwa are recipients of 2022 Rahamon Bello Award for the best Ph.D. Thesis in African Studies.

The recipients were announced on November 30, 2022, in the under listed order:

 1. The winner is Dr. Henrietta Omo Eshalomi of the Diaspora and Transnational Studies, University of Ibadan. Her thesis "Delta State Diaspora and the Ramifications of Ethnic Ambivalence for Homeland Development” examined and addressed issues that had great relevance for African and African diaspora development challenges. It was supervised by Dr. Senayon S. Olaoluwa. 

2. The 2nd Runner-up, Dr. Kehinde Adepegba under the supervision of Dr. B. A. Ademuleya, Obafemi Awolowo University wrote an impressive thesis “Continuity and Change in the Egungun Costumes in Abeokuta, Nigeria.

3. The 1st Runner-up was Dr. John Olatunde Mariase Uwa of English Literature, University of Lagos. His thesis “Transformation and Transmediation of Nigerian Popular Drama: The Agency of Nigerian stand-up Comedy” was supervised by Prof. Patrick Oloko and Prof. Hope Eghagha.

Extended Abstract of “Continuity and Change in the Egúngún Costumes in Abeokuta, Nigeria”  a Ph.D. Thesis by Kehinde Adepegba. 

Background of the study 

The Egúngún costume art functions as clothing for the spirits of the visiting ancestors, among the Yorùbá, without which, their households and communities members will not experience their physical manifestations.  Thus, the ancestors are contained in art forms (costumes) where they become accessible (Berns, 1979). The visual art forms of Egúngún include carved wooden sculpture (masks and headdresses), fabric costumes (woven cloths, appliqué, assorted textile materials, and others), hand-held props (swords, horse whisk, beaded fan, decorated fan, and others), and other decorative accessories and attachments such as amulets, medicinal charms, cowries, small gourds containing power substance, toys, combs, etc.).

The components of the Egúngún costumes are themselves objects of artistic creations and expressions of the Yorùbá’s creative ingenuities. Since the beginning of early 20th century, there have emerged skillful Egúngún costume designers and producers, who though were members of the Ọ̀jẹ̀ families, specialised in cutting and sewing of Egúngún costumes and production of its different components such as face-nets, sandals, textile applique, embroidery, leatherworks and props like beaded staffs, hand-held decorative fans, among others. The oníṣẹ́-ọnà (artists) therefore, play important roles in Yorùbá culture, as they serve as agents for translating time-honoured values into visual metaphors aimed at sustaining humanity in body and spirit (Lawal, 2012). Unfortunately, only a few of these Yorùbá artists (woodcarvers) and their artworks have been examined. The artists working on different aspects of Egúngún costume design and production in Abẹ́òkúta needed to be identified, examined and documented.

The composition of Abẹ́òkúta town in 1830 was that of a fusion of assortment of five (5) groups of peoples who hitherto have been part and parcel of a larger group elsewhere. Having been together for two centuries, it was of interest to see how the Egúngún traditions of these diverse indigenous peoples have diffused and infused overtime and how its costumes have changed by the passage of time. More so, that Egúngún tradition has been used to uphold the social and religious fabrics of their society through play and entertainment, social interaction, political cohesion, religious rites and rituals, among others.

Statement of the problem

There exist an abundant number of studies on Yorùbá Egúngún tradition. Art historians and other scholars from within and outside Africa have worked on various aspects of the Egúngún tradition. As pertinent as the literature were, their reviews have revealed that there was a dearth of information on identification of Egúngún costume designers and producers, and the evolution of the unique forms of Egúngún costumes over time. However, Wolff in 1982 carried out a study on Egúngún from Ìtokò in Aké area of Abẹ́òkúta. Also, Olajubu and Ojo (1977) in their study make references to some aspects of Egúngún tradition in Abẹ́òkúta that are not sufficient compared with the multifarious nature of Egúngún costuming across many communities and quarters among the peoples.

Given that a lot has taken place before and after these studies by Wolff (1982), Olajubu and Ojo (1977), there is always the danger of losing the fleeting changes and trends occurring from time to time as occasioned by compulsive factors of social change. This is also worsened by the perishable nature of the materials (fabric textile and wood) used for the construction of the Egúngún costumes. As a result, the fleeting and successive changes might be lost if not promptly studied and documented.

In view of the above, this study was carried out to provide information on the continuity and change in Egúngún costumes in Abẹ́òkúta towards appreciating the continuous development of the Egúngún costume art in the study area.

Aim and objectives 

Adepegba’s study identified and examined the designers and producers of Egúngún costumes in Abẹ́òkúta, a cosmopolitan city of five Yorùbá subgroups namely: Aké, Òkè-ọnà and Gbágùrá, Òwu and Ìbarà. He classified the identified Egúngún types and their costumes, probed into the forms and symbolism of Egúngún costumes in the study area and established the continuity and change in the Egúngún costume design and production. These objectives were with a view to constructing the history of its design and production in the study area. 

Scope of the study

The study area of the work was Abẹ́òkúta where five indigenous peoples (Aké, Òkè-ọnà, Gbágùrá, Òwu and Ìbarà) have crossed-interacted over the years socio-culturally, religiously, politically and maritally. Though they maintain clear geographical delineations in the Abẹ́òkúta city, they were all contained within two Local Governments namely: Abẹ́òkúta South and Abẹ́òkúta North. The study was limited to towns and quarters where Egúngún tradition was practised among the peoples within these two Local Government areas that make up Abẹ́òkúta.

Therefore, within the context of the study, the scope covered first and foremost all the costumes of all available classes of Egúngún in Aké, Òkè-ọnà, Gbágùrá, Òwu and Ìbarà. Egúngún costumes included both recent and old ones as obtainable from live performances and from those in the custodies of the Ọ̀jẹ̀ society members. And all available old and recent Egúngún costume designers and producers (woodcarvers, tailors, bead-makers, face-net weavers, and others.) that were involved in the costume-making art and the Egúngún society members and their title-holders in Abẹ́òkúta, who were involved in carrying out Egúngún-related activities. 

Significance of the study

The study provided adequate information highlighting the essential roles of the communal artists (Egúngún costume designers and producers) as visual art practitioners. It availed us with abundant information on the historical, socio-cultural and aesthetic values of Egúngún costuming art among the people. It added  to existing body of works on the subject, thus leading to increase in the appreciation of Egúngún typology and costume forms in the study area. The gaps that existed between the old and new tradition of costume design and production and its forms in Abẹ́òkúta were filled by the study. And finally, the study would lead to further studies on continuity and change consequently bridging the gaps between tradition and modernity with respect to Egúngún costumes.

Theoretical framework

The study provided historical analysis of the change experienced in the Egúngún costume construction and development from precolonial to postcolonial times using linear and multi-linear theories of social change. The theories, underscored the fact that the change in Egúngún costume was progressive, incremental and multi-directional. However, to situate the study within the milieu of African philosophy, it explored some Yorùbá sayings as indigenous theories for interrogating subjects such as social change in the study.


Data for the study were collected from both primary and secondary sources. The primary data included participant’s observation, photographic recordings and unstructured oral interviews. Oral traditions like òwe (proverbs), orin (songs), oríkì (praise chants),  èṣà/iwì (Egúngún chants),  ẹsẹ̀ Ifá (Ifá verses), among others on Egúngún tradition, were also used as veritable sources of information. Secondary data were obtained from relevant literature, archival materials and community day pamphlets, Journals and theses on Yorùbá art and Egúngún tradition. The data sourced for the work were employed to analyse the objectives of the study using formal, biographical, historical and contextual methods.


The results showed that overtime, different design types and styles have been infused into Egúngún costume-making among the different groups (Aké, Òkè-ọnà, Gbágùrá, Òwu and Ìbarà) in Abẹ́òkúta. The results also revealed the existence of three classes of Egúngún in Abẹ́òkúta; these were identified by ownership, disposition and functions. All the identified classes have consistently experienced continuous change in line with the dynamic dress culture of the people as affected by factors of social change such as western education, Christianity, Islam, importation of exotic fabrics, exposure to foreign cultures, among others. The results further showed the peculiar Egúngún fabric and wooden costume forms and their symbolism in Abẹ́òkúta. Finally, the study established a linear and multi-linear pattern of change in the history of Egúngún costume development in Abẹ́òkúta.

The study concluded that the Egúngún costumes tradition in Abẹ́òkúta has not been static, but has evolved and continued to attract younger costumes-makers thereby sustaining the dynamic tradition; and that in spite of the change overtime, the tradition still retains some of its old elements, serves as the receptacles of the ancestors’ spirits and medium of entertainment. Despite contemporary dynamics, Egúngún costumes tradition still relevant in the strengthening of the Yorùbá belief system and the social fabric of the society.

Contributions to knowledge

The study’s major contribution to the existing body of knowledge on Egúngún tradition is offering formal analysis of all the Egúngún costumes that are prevalent in Abẹ́òkúta,  unveiling their  forms, icons and design motifs. This resulted in identification of sixteen (16) unique Egúngún costume forms derived from the costumes’ physical attributes and visual properties and diverse symbolic interpretations of the costumes. It also identified fourteen (14) Egúngún costume designers and provided their profound biographies while highlighting their contributions to change and  continuity in Egúngún costume in Abẹ́òkúta.


Kehinde Adepegba is an artist, art critic/historian, a creative writer and bilingual author. His over 30 years art career began in the Eruwa Campus of the Polytechnic, Ibadan, where he had his National Diploma (ND) in Fine Arts in 1989. He proceeded in 1993 to Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife and obtained a Bachelor of Arts (BA) degree in Fine Arts (Graphic Design) in 1997. In 2006, he happened to be the pioneer Master of Arts (MA) degree graduate in Visual Arts (History of Arts) from the University of Lagos, Akoka. Also, he bagged a Post-Graduate Diploma in Education (PGDE) from Lagos State University, Ojo in 2009. The quest for scholarship propelled Kehinde Adepegba to return to Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife for a Master of Arts (MA) and Ph.D in African Art Studies at the Obafemi Awolowo University Ile-Ife in 2016 and 2021 respectively.

Overtime, he worked variously as paste-up artist, art teacher and graphic designer.  He had a stint for twelve years between1999 and 2010 with Longman Nigeria Plc, a foremost book publisher, as a book Designer. During and after this period, he participated in various group art exhibitions and his first solo exhibition took place between 28th August and 11th September 2007 at the National Gallery of Art, National Theatre, Iganmu Lagos.

As a creative writer, he has authored a number of books in Yoruba and English languages. Some of them include Ogbon Ologbon (Yoruba play), Eku Eda (Yoruba play) Okele Akobu (Yoruba prose), Journey to the city (children prose) Obinna and the smugglers (children prose) and Under the orange tree (a collection of children’s short stories) and Contemporary Yoruba Wood Carving (art historical research book), among others. Adepegba has written scores of reviews on Nigerian artists in exhibition catalogues and newspapers and is a proficient translator and interpreter of English to Yoruba and Yoruba to English. 

Kehinde Adepegba has attended many conferences, where he presented scholarly papers, most of which have been published locally and internationally. He has served as a rapporteur at various seminars and conferences and has written numerous contributions and reviews in national dailies. He has served as curator of art exhibition among which was 2021 ‘OAU at 60’ art exhibition tagged: ‘60Years, 60 Artists, 60 Days’. He research focus is African communal art and visual culture and the influences of gender, power and religion, with particular reference to Yoruba art and architecture, and Yoruba artists within the milieu of continuity and change. He also spotlights on indigenous and contemporary graphic art practices including photography and printmaking. He has been an external moderator to the Department of Graphic Design, Yaba College of Technology, adjunct lecturer to degree programme of Federal College of Education (T), Akoka and accreditation resource person to the National Board for Technical Education (NBTE).

Adepegba has been teaching Graphic Design and, Art History and Criticism courses since 2010 when he joined the Department of Art and Industrial Design, Lagos State Polytechnic and has served as a member of School of Environmental Studies Examination Committee, Research and Publication Committee, Examination Malpractice Committee, and other committees in the Polytechnic Level. He was the Ag. HOD of his Department from February 2018- February 2022. He organised and presented the 1st Art industrial Design Seminar Series titled ‘Continuity and Change in the Egúngún Costumes’, on 23rd March, 2022. And in July 2022, he was appointed the first Ag. Head of the Department of Art and Industrial Design, Lagos State University of Science and Technology, Ikorodu, Lagos Nigeria. 

Adepegba is a recipient of many awards including 2015 Distinguished Scholar Award by Lagos Chapter of the Society of Nigerian Artists (SNA), Best Paper presenter at the Environmental Design and Management International Conference (EDMIC 2017)- OAU, Ile-Ife,  2022 LASUSTECH Distinguished Personality Award of Excellence for Contribution to Teaching, Research and Institutional Development  by iSTEAMS International Multidisciplinary Conference and 2022 Lagos Studies Association (LSA) Best Thesis Award. 

Kehinde Adepegba is a member of Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA), Society of Nigerian Artists (SNA), College Art Association (CAA), ArtPOWA, Lagos Studies Association (LSA), African Arts Association (AFRAA) and Arts Council of the African Studies Association (ACASA).

His hobbies include watching football, reading and listening to Yoruba music.

Separating Yoruba religious tradition from Isese

Translucent S.I. Media management agency for artists and art galleries

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