Gelede headdresses (not masks as these sit ON the head and not across the face) are one of the few among the Yoruba to celebrate female forces. The headdresses, along with associated masquerade costumes, are used to promote peace and harmony within a community by celebrating the spiritual powers of women (specifically elderly women, 'awon iya wa' and the great mother Yemoja, 'iya nla'); the powers of which can be used for either good or evil. “With gẹ, meaning ‘to soothe, to placate, to pet or coddle,’ ẹlẹ meaning a woman’s private parts, and dẹ meaning ‘to soften with care or gentleness,’ Gelede refers to the concept of honouring women and their innate powers so that the entire community may reap the benefits of their life-giving forces.”2
The Gelede festival is held annually, usually in the late afternoon in springtime, during which Gelede masquerades from various parts of a town or village arrive at a single market square. The masquerades perform in pairs, dancing across the market square dressed in Gelede headdresses and costumes, celebrating the various roles of villagers in the society (market traders, blacksmiths, hunters, mothers, priestesses, etc…). The headdresses are usually elaborated carved to depict these roles while others depict metaphors of various acceptable and unacceptable behaviours within the community.
Gelede headdresses are found mainly in southwestern region of Nigeria (i.e. western Yorubaland including the villages and cities Ketu, Egbado, Ohori, Anago and Awori). In some areas Gelede honours Ogun, the god of iron and war and in other regions Eshu (the trickster god and messenger of the gods) is honoured.
For more, see the UNESCO video HERE on the oral heritage of Gelede.
Common features among all Gelede masks:
Sub-type variations (Ori Eniyan - Human Head):
Regional variations (Ketu sub-group):
Regional variations (Awori sub-group / Ota city):
Regional variations (Awori sub-group / Igbesa city):