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Yoruba Mask History And Tribal Culture

African mask bearers appearing at funerals are believed to embody the spirit of the deceased person. These maskers have the power to communicate with the deceased, Yoruba people strongly believe that when they die, they enter the realm of the ancestors or spirit world from where they have influence and power on earth.

Yoruba masks are also worn by a traditional healers to drive evil spirits from the possessed person. The arts of the Yoruba are numerous in form, Beautifully sculptured and or carved art pieces are placed on shrines to honor the gods and the ancestors. Varied masking traditions have resulted in a great diversity of mask forms. Beautiful sculpture abounds in wood and brass and the occasional terracotta.

Tribal leaders and the communities in which they reside, pay annual homage to the graves of ancestors, honoring deceased members through a yearly sacrifice. No organized priesthoods or shrines exist in honor of Olorun, but his spirit is invoked to ask for blessings and to confer thanks.

Thousands of years ago the Yoruba tribe had an exceedingly complex number system based on twenty.

Each town has a leader (Oba), who may achieve his position in several different ways including inheritance, gaining the position through participation in title associations, or being personally elected by an Oba already in power. Each Oba, is considered to be a direct descendant of the founding Oba in each city. A council of chiefs usually assists the Oba in his decisions. Title associations, such as the ogboni, play an important role in assigning and balancing power within the cities.

Historically, the Yoruba were primarily farmers, growing cocoa and yams as cash crops. These are planted in a three-year rotational system, alternating with cassava and a year of diverse crops including maize, peanuts, cotton, and beans. At the end of a three-year cycle the land is left fallow, sometimes for seven years. It is estimated that at one time nearly 70 percent of people participated in agriculture and ten percent each working as crafts people and traders within the towns. Yoruba land is characterized by numerous densely populated urban centers with surrounding fields for farming. The centralization of wealth within cities allowed for the development of a complex market economy, which encouraged extensive patronage of the arts.