When I was a kid between the ages of three to ten, my friends and I were fond of watching Lọ́baníkà, an egúngún masquerade that performed regularly once a year in my neighborhood at Iremo in Ile Ife. Lobanika’s annual act was the highlight of the entire community, and we always waited with joy for the week when Lobanika performed to the delight of all and sundry. The masquerade always emerged from a tiny building specially constructed for it, and after some ritual enactments, it then cruised throughout the entire neighborhood. People always kept some new hand-built terracotta pots in front of their houses for Lọ́baníkà, and as soon as it got to the front of the house, Lọ́baníkà would lift the pots up high above its head masks, and smash it to pieces on the floor. As a child, I found these dramatic activities totally hilarious.

Lọ́baníkà, like other egungun masquerades of its kind, was the spirit of returning ancestors. It represents the idea of ÀÌKÚ or eternity, deathlessness, rejuvenation and prosperity.

Two weeks ago I went to the Ayorunbo compound, the location from where Lọ́baníkà emerged to perform. The building that housed Lọ́baníkà’s paraphernalia has been abandoned and covered with bushes. I noticed that people now defecate there. The entire place reeks of fecal stench and refuse has piled up above waist level. Some twenty yards from the spot is an evangelist church where a pastor was leading a group of women reveling to Christian music.

I wept. I wept because the entire neighborhood looks depressed. Sadness has taken over a people that used to be joyous, and we seem to have lost our way, and are chained to gloom. A place that looked spotlessly clean has become a space of sorrow, as people dance and sing to new foreign gods in their filthy environments.

Then an idea occurred to me: make an altar to replace the spirit of Lọ́baníkà at the Àkòdì Òrìṣà. I then created this altar-installation at Àkòdì Òrìṣà, called ÀÌKÚ, which represents eternity, deathlessness, rejuvenation and prosperity, just like Lọ́baníkà. The three hand-built terra-cotta pots on top of the altar-installation refers to Lọ́baníkà’s penchant for playing with terra-cotta pot shards.

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