TITLE: Yoruba Gelede Mask
TYPE: crest mask
COUNTRY: Nigeria
DESCRIPTION: Women’s Head Gelede Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Gelede Society
AGE: ca. 1980s
OTHER MATERIALS: oil-based paint

The highly populous Yoruba people inhabit much of Nigeria and parts of Benin. The Gelede Society originates in cultural myths about Yemoja, the mother of all living things, who could not conceive children until she learned a dance with a wooden image on her head. The Gelede is named after Yemoja’s chubby daughter, and the dance therefore has a close connection with fertility rites. Nonetheless, the Gelede ceremony performs diverse functions in Yoruba society, including to pray for rain, purify the village of disease, to enlist spiritual help in wartime, and to honor the dead.

This mask was culturally used, probably in the 1980s, in a Nigerian community.

For more on the Gelede ceremony, see Babatunde Lawal’s incomparable monograph, The Gelede Spectacle (University of Washington Press, 1996).