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The Yoruba of Nigeria recognize the ancestors in many ways. One structure that has been institutionalized for hundreds of years is the Epa celebration to honor the great ancestors of the Yoruba. The Epa Society is responsible for creating the masks and the occasion for the ancestral ceremony. The tradition centers on the creation of Epa helmet masks that are among the most elaborate among the Yoruba. They are monumental structures, some reaching to 5 feet and weighing 60 pounds. Because the Yoruba believe in the African philosophical system, they build the Epa out of a single block of wood from the Iroko tree.

These Epa masks are displayed on the heads of youthful athletic dancers who are able to handle the huge masks. Because the ...

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