The Gelede Cult: A Spectacular Display Of Womanhood, Identity And Style
“Iru awo egungun wo L’obirin le se, Awo Gelede ni Obinrin le yan, ti Obinrin ba wo oro, oro a gbe.”
– King Sunny Ade (E ki lo fun Omo Ode, 1974 )
Translation: Which of the cults can a woman belong to if not the Gelede cult? But if a woman sees the Oro, she will be doomed.
Everything about the Gelede masquerade speaks spectacular. Its colourful, brilliant, bold, daring and, most especially, energetic and spiritually powerful display sits the Yoruba woman on a high pedestal in the African society. An alluring display of elegance, panache and style, it shows how fashionable and how important women are in the African society.
The Gelede mask is a headdress created to bring to light issues in the society affecting the women. It is comical in a way, but also cultural and traditionally potent to cause a change in either the political or social structure of the society. The Gelede masquerade highlights the important role of women in society and power of motherhood. It acts as a beacon that shines the light for progress, development and growth.
The Gelede masquerade which is popular in the South-West region of the country glorifies the woman.
However, the mask is often worn by men dressed in colourful female clothing, with the mask crafted to adore the woman.
The acts performed by the Gelede masquerade are often comical, entertaining and satirical. They can display a narrative around an unfaithful or abusive husband, or a society that frowns at crimes committed against womanhood. These acts give the women in the society a chance to voice out their
grievances against the men.
The irony of the Gelede masquerade culture sees the man doing the needful to have the woman recognised and appreciated in a patriarchal society. After the cultural display, although “societal normalcy” takes its place again until the following year, the festival gives room for people to discuss certain crucial issues it brings to light.
Another important feature of the Gelede masquerade is in its sexuality. The Gelede nourishes women’s identity and sexuality. In some quarters, the name “Gelede” means “pampering the woman”. Its elaborate colourful costumes and outlook, which almost speak in a pornographic way, idolise the power of female sexuality and, most importantly, the power of procreation they possess, which is also seen as the ultimate power of life and death.
In times past, the position and voice of the African woman in the society have been downplayed by so many factors. The burden of building a family and society rests on the shoulder of the woman. But, at the same time, she is pushed to the back of the line when it comes to taking active roles or standing up for her rights and beliefs.
The Gelede masquerade stands to fight against these and many more notions for the women. Its ultimate objective is to commemorate sexuality and identity, and culturally display how powerful women are in the fabric of our society. It also brings into focus the fact that there can’t be a proper socio-economical development in any society without the active representation of the women.
Get the latest news delivered straight to your inbox every day of the week. Stay informed with the Guardian’s leading coverage of Nigerian and world news, business, technology and sports.