Yoruba Gelede Masquerade

by Henry J. Drewal
University of Wisconsin, Madison

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

Many Gelede masks depict animals that serve as metaphors for human actions and attributes as well as illustrations of popular proverbs and songs that often accompany the mask's appearance. Animals in devouring motifs are an important means of conveying the concept of competing forces in social as well as spiritual realms. One such image portrays a warthog clutching a snake in its mouth.  Sometimes these simply record a scene witnessed by the artist, but more often they have metaphorical significance. In this composition, while the warthog appears to be subduing the snake, at the back another snake attacks the warthog.  Thus this mask may illustrate the Yoruba proverb that cautions, "we kill a snake when we find it without its companions.”