Gelede masks are worn by male dancers at Yoruba festivals that honor the women of the community. The gelede performances entertain and educate, and document elements of everyday life. Through their movements, gelede dancers are able to express Yoruba ideals of male and female behavior.
This attractive mask features different shades of brown, accentuated by a glossy patina. It has a surprised and quite intense expression.
Chip on back of piece.
About the Yoruba People
The Yoruba are the largest cultural group on the African continent, with nearly 40 million people. The word ‘Yoruba’ describes both the language and a tribe living across Nigeria and the Popular Republic of Benin, in an area of forest and savannah.
The Yoruba people’s primary living space is South-West Nigeria with substantial Yoruba communities in Benin, Togo and Sierra Leone but they are not bound by state or country borders. This area is often referred to as “Yorubaland”. Most of the terrain is either forest, woodland savannah, rich farmland or coastal swamps and lagoons.
The origin of the Yoruba people in Nigeria is heavily debated. Some believe they came from the east in Mecca, some say from the north in Egypt. Evidence shows that ethnically, Yoruba’s have been in the area known as Yorubaland since the 7th century BC. Scholars believe the area was probably inhabited earlier by peoples of the Nok culture. Yorubaland covers the modern-day countries of Nigeria, Togo and Benin. The term Yoruba to describe ethnicity, did not come about until the 16th century and wasn’t widely used until the 19th century. Before then, the Yoruba people were known by many names depending on who was acknowledging them. For instance, the Europeans referred to them as Akú, whereas in Cuba, they were referred to as O luku mi.
Read more about the Yoruba here.
About the Gelede Mask
Gelede is a ceremonial dance to celebrate mothers and female ancestors during festivals. Meant to educate and inspire, masks are created to show the power these women hold. Worn and created by men, the masks come in all shapes and sizes. The dancers dress themselves in colorful, elaborate costumes and place the headdresses on top of their heads, faces covered by a veil to hide their identity. The dancers vigorously move to the beat of drums while singing and putting on a spectacular performance in honor of the women in their lives.
The origins of Gelede come from the story of Yemoja, “The Mother of all the orisa and all living things”. Yemoja could not bear children so she consulted an oracle. He advised her to offer sacrifices while dancing with wooden images on her head and metal anklets on her feet. With the ritual complete, Yemoja gave birth to a son nicknamed “Efe”. Later she gave birth to a girl, Gelede.
When Gelede and Efe grew older and were married themselves, they too were unable to have children. The oracle suggested they try the same ritual as their mother had to conceive them. Soon after, both children had families of their own, developing this masked dance into a traditional ceremony.