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Yoruba Gelede mask

Yoruba Gelede mask
Yoruba Gelede maskYoruba Gelede maskYoruba Gelede maskYoruba Gelede mask
Tribe: Yoruba
Country: Nigeria
Ritual: Gelede
Name: Gelede
Materials: Wood, copper staples, fibre
Provenance: Coll. Andrew Turley SuagaCollection 2002.
Comments: Pigment and paint layers as well as significant internal and external wear and patina lead me to date this mask at prior to 1950.

Gelede society masqueraders of the Yoruba are limited to the southwestern region of Yorubaland. Made up of both men and women and led by an elderly woman, the society organises a lavish masquerade as an offering to "Our Mothers". It is intended to persuade "Our Mothers" to use their special powers for the god of the entire community instead of wielding them destructively.

The widespread conviction that women, especially older women, control extraordinary powers, perhaps even greater than those of the gods and ancestors is acknowledged in Yoruba songs that refer to them as "the gods of society" and "owners of the world". Women hold the secret of life itself, they posses the knowledge and distinctive capability to bring human life into being and conversely they have the potential to remove life. With those powers "Our Mothers" can be either beneficial or harmful. They can give vitality, prosperity and productivity to the earth and its inhabitants or they can bring cataclysm, disease, scarcity and plague.

The Gelede society wear masks horizontally like a hat. They usually have strong negroid features and often a superstructure. They show a use of commercial colours not usually found in African art. The chief deity of the society was Iyala (or Aiye), god of the earth and fertility. The masks were also used at yearly fertility celebrations and at the funeral of a member of the society.

This mask has at least 3 different layers of paint and ochre. There are tribal repairs with 4 large copper staples across large age cracks (the staples have been painted over a number of times). The inner helmet is very smooth and well patinated and a fibre pad is still in place to provide padding for the head of the dancer. The painted surfaces, although flakey in parts, show good patina. Age cracks on a portion of the face are being progressively repaired from the inside to stabilise the front section of the mask.


  1. African Masks of the Barbier Mueller Collection. Prestel Verlag Munich. 1998.
  2. A History of African Art, Harry. N. Abrams Inc Publisher NY. 2001.
  3. Jean Borgatti, Clark University, Worcester, MA. Online. 2001.
  4. African Art, Frank Willet. Praeger Publishers Inc NY. 1971.
  5. Gelede and the Celebration of Womanhood. Ijeoma Oguachuba. Online. 2002.