The Gèlèdé Spectacle of the Yoruba

Oju to ba ri oju to ba ri Gèlèdé ti de opin iran.”

(The eyes that have seen Gèlèdé have seen the ultimate spectacle.)

In praise of awon iya wa, our mothers ― a Yoruba tribute to the spiritual powers of women.

The Gèlèdé, Through the Eyes of the Observer

“The preliminary performances heighten the crowd’s excitement and anticipation, for they herald the impending appearance of the master dancers attired in full costumes and elaborately carved headdresses.  They enter the dance space at one end and move toward the drummers, echoing the intricate rhythms with their iron leg-rattles.  Then in a final flourish in front of the drums, they perform virtuoso solos, responding to the drummed challenges of the musicians — verbal-rhythmic phrases known as eka.

As dusk approaches after a dazzling array of masqueraders imaging countless aspects of Yoruba life and thought, a final masker — one that synthesizes goddess, ancestress, and priestess — appears to conclude and bless the Gèlèdé spectacle.  Her white ensemble glowing in the growing darkness, Iya Odua (Mother Odua) moves with measured stride toward the marketplace accompanied by her priestess, her attire mirroring that of the masker visually to unite spiritual and earthly realms.”

― Henry J. Drewal, Author, Historian, Curator of African Art

“Most times, you can hear the rumbling of the drums and the jingling of ankle bells before you see them. Then dancers appear in blazing attire, wearing masks carved with colorful tales, social messages and symbols of power. The performers offer a codified masquerade during the day, followed by nocturnal praises and prayers. Through the centuries of its existence, the Guelede heritage, proclaimed part of the intangible cultural heritage of Humanity by UNESCO in 2001, has preserved its splendor.

A radiant chapter of Yoruba culture, Guelede is so much more than a dance. It is a society of masks inseparable from a body of rites, to worship the spirits of the Mothers — ‘Awon Iya’ in the Yoruba language.”  

— Laeïla Adjovi, Award-winning Franco-Beninese Photographer, Journalist

Through the Photographer’s Lens

Through Movement and Sound

“Participation in Gèlèdé is an intense spiritual experience: beating the drums, dancing in costumes, receiving the blessing of the mask, or responding to the music is like being charged with divine energy.”  

― Babatunde Lawal, Scholar, Researcher, Author, and Gèlèdé Participant

Sources and Further Reading

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