Yoruba Gelede Masquerade

by Henry J. Drewal
University of Wisconsin, Madison

Iya Odua masquerade, Egbado-Yoruba, Nigeria, 1978. Photo by H.J. Drewal and M.T. Drewal. Submitted by Henry Drewal.

As dusk approaches after a dazzling array of masqueraders imaging countless aspects of Yoruba life and thought, a final masker--one that synthesizes goddess, ancestress, and priestess--appears to conclude and bless the Gelede spectacle.  Her white ensemble glowing in the growing darkness, Iya Odua (Mother Odua) moves with measured stride toward the marketplace accompanied by her priestess, her attire mirroring that of the masker visually to unite spiritual and earthly realms.  Iya Odua's slow, stately tread conveys her age, wisdom, and sacred power.  Her whiteness symbolizes her cool, covert demeanor and her post-menopausal purity for she is the creative, protective, nurturing mother of the gathered crowd, her offspring.