Yoruba Gelede Masquerade

by Henry J. Drewal
University of Wisconsin, Madison

Gelede with biplane, Ketu-Yoruba, Nigeria, 1978. Photo by H.J. Drewal and M.T. Drewal. Submitted by Henry Drewal. 

Images of technology in Gelede masks convey multiple associations. In one sense, they evoke the dynamics of change in society and praise for the positive benefits that can derive from such inventions as sewing machines and cars.  Yet these same inventions can have spiritual connotations as well for they are sometimes seen as resulting from extraordinary powers, like those ascribed to "our mothers”—for whom Gelede is performed.  One of "our mothers'" powers is their ability to transform into birds and other flying creatures who can travel great distances with ease.  Thus the striking image of a biplane flying over the head of a Gelede masker evokes the transformative powers of "our mothers," encouraging them to use such powers for the progress and benefit of society.