By Christopher D. Roy
University of Iowa

One of "our mothers," an elderly priestess of the goddess Odua, Egbado-Yoruba, Nigeria, 1975. Photo by H. J. Drewal and M. T. Drewal. 

Among the Yoruba people of southwestern Nigeria, the spiritual power of elderly women is of special concern because it can be used for the benefit of society if they are honored, or may be destructive if they are ignored.  Such women are honored through the mask performances called gelede, which please the elderly women and encourage them to use their power for the well-being of the community.  When manifesting their destructive dimension such elderly women are termed aje (witches).  If angered they can bring down individuals and entire communities. Gelede maskers entertain and enlighten the community and "our mothers," pleasing, placating and thus encouraging them to use their extraordinary powers for the well-being of society.