The University of Iowa University of Iowa

Yoruba Gelede Masquerade

by Henry J. Drewal
University of Wisconsin, Madison

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

Gelede pays homage to the spiritual powers of women, especially elderly women known affectionately as "our mothers," awon iya wa. The powers possessed by such women, comparable to those of the gods, spirits, or ancestors, may be used for the benefit or the destruction of society.  When manifesting their destructive dimension such elderly women are termed aje ("witches").  If angered, they can bring down individuals and entire communities.