Secrecy

By Mary Nooter Roberts
University of California, Los Angeles

Gelede with metaphoric animal images. Egbado-Yoruba, Nigeria, 1978. Photo by H.J. Drewal and M.T. Drewal. Submitted by Henry Drewal.

A single kingship often maintains two treasuries—one public, the other private. Michelle Gilbert describes the dialectic underlying, on the one hand, the triumphant public display of gold-covered regalia by royals of Akuapem kingdom in Ghana and, on the other, the even more potent blackened regalia, guarded in an obscure shrine room, to which only select dignitaries have access. Similarly, the Kuba court in south central Democratic Republic of the Congo kept relatively well-known public regalia and also a hidden treasury guarded in the hands of a "ritual king." Concealment and revelation define the dialectic of Bangwa night society performances, staged after dark, and the more overt, public displays of kingly regalia. Similarly, the nocturnal performances of the Gelede "Great Mother" mask, which depicts the secret, potentially dangerous powers of women, are counterbalanced by the diurnal Gelede performances in which the identity of the dancer is openly visible (Drewal 1977).