Saturday, January 24, 2015

How To Tie Yoruba Geles (Women's Head Wraps)

Edited by Azizi Powell

This is Part I of a three part series on tieing head wraps (head scarves). Part I focuses on the Yoruba (Nigeria) custom of women wearing geles (head wraps). Examples of Igbo women wearing headwraps (ichafus) can be found in the Addendum to this video.

This post doesn't purport to provide a comprehensive description of head wrap styles among Yoruba pr of Nigerian women in general.

Click for Part II of this series. Part II presents some information about the history of African American women wearing head scarves and presents several video examples of how some contemporary Black women in the United States tie head scarves (head wraps).

Click for Part III of this series. Part III showcases on video examples of women from African nations other than Nigeria wearing tied head wraps.

The content of this post is presented for folkloric, cultural, and aesthetic reasons.

All copyrights remain with their owners.

Thanks to all those who are quoted in this post. Thanks to those featured in these videos and thanks to the publishers of these videos on YouTube.

These comments are posted in no particular order and are numbered for references purposes only.
1. From Gele: The Yoruba Woman’s CROWN! Posted by Eunice Adewumi on Jan 15, 2014
" “Gele” is a Yoruba word for a female head wrap. Yoruba women are known for wearing the impossibly intricate Gele head dresses, and although head dressing can be found in almost every African culture, the Gele is more than just head covering, it is an art form. It is a large rectangular cloth tied on a woman’s head in a variety of fashions. The material used to make the gele is usually of a stiff, but flexible, nature e.g. Aso-oke (thickly woven silk), Brocade (cotton) and Damask. These materials come in a wide array of colors, patterns and textures. The bigger the cloth (and the greater the skill) the more elaborate the look.

Gele tying is an Art form that takes practice, patience and often times a well-toned arm, but once tied, a Gele can make any woman look regal. It is a beautiful crown of glory, and today they come in amazing colors, patterns, and designs. For glamorous events such as weddings, birthdays, christening, inaugurations or even funerals – a woman’s appearance is often considered to be incomplete without one. Gele -tying is an art, and like every other art, its success depends on creativity and mastery. Unfortunately, it could be a head-ache and most ladies struggle with it. A properly tied ‘Gele’ can be a head turner, however, on the contrary, if wrongly done can become a total disaster. Every Gele is unique and there is no true formula to achieve the exact look twice. If you take a closer look, you will see that no two Geles (once tied) are alike."...

2. From Nigerian Gele Fashion By Jenni Gate, Monday, April 29, 2013
"In Nigeria, women’s fashion has included the gele, or head wrap, for at least 400 years, and most likely longer. It’s thought that in the days before slavery, head wraps were used as a display of wealth when worn by men, and a sign of social status and spirituality when worn by women. The word gele (pronounced gay-lay) is a Yoruba word used by people of southern Nigeria. Other regions of Nigeria also use head wraps. In Igbo culture, the word used for a head scarf is ichafu, The trend for women wearing head wraps has spread across Africa and is also a tradition being passed down in African American communities. A head wrap is not only beautiful, it can also cover a bad hair day, protect the head from the sun, and express creativity

Tying a gele has become an art form, and the Yoruba women tie them in the most flamboyant way. The Yoruba, especially, believe a gele makes even an ordinary woman look like a queen. They can be tall, turban-like, intricate, or simply elegant. Geles have become a necessary part of a woman’s outfit for social occasions such as weddings, christenings, funerals, even birthday parties. Because a poorly tied gele can ruin an outfit, there are gele specialists in Nigeria, similar to celebrity hairdressers in the US and Europe, who are known for their fantastic head-wrapping skills. Traditionally, the hair is completely covered by the wrap, leaving just the face exposed. Modern styles often leave a strand or two of hair at the side of the face, or hair gathered to spill out of the back. Prices for tying a gele can range from the equivalent of a few dollars to several hundred for popular gele masters...

The wrap, one-half to one yard in length, is usually folded in half lengthwise several times until it is about 6 inches wide. The longer the fabric, the larger the head wrap will be. The fabric is wrapped around the head and tied into a knot under the hair at the base of the neck. Depending on the length, the design may start with the middle at the nape of the neck and the ends first tied at the top of the head. The ends are pulled up and wrapped, sometimes twisted and tucked into the folds at the top of the head or tied into a bow at the side. A gele master can wrap and tie various shapes and textures into the design. Professional designs can be formed into a fan, hat, flower, or other shapes. The end result may even look like a dish or beehive.

The fabrics used to make a gele are called aso-oke. The best materials to make a gele are usually stiff, such as damask, taffeta, cotton, or thickly-woven silk. Lace and velvet and other fabrics can also be used, sometimes as a secondary fabric adorning the gele. Colors are bright, reflecting the personality of the wearer."...

3. From from video summary about Segun Gele [video Uploaded on Jul 16, 2010 and given as Example #2 below]
"Houston, Texas (CNN) -- Segun Gele, or to use his full name Hakeem Oluwasegun Olaleye, is a man making a name for himself in a woman's world.

The Houston-based businessman has made an artform out of tying a gele -- the gravity-defying headwraps worn by Nigerian women...

Watching Segun Gele whip the material into graceful folds and arcs in less than five minutes, you know he is the master...

Geles come in different fabrics such as damask, brocade and "aso-oke" (hand-woven fabrics popular for Yoruba special occasions in Nigeria). The most popular fabric among Nigerian women is a metallic fabric made from jacquard.*

Gallery: Segun Gele, the master headturner They have been worn by Nigerian women for generations, but in recent years has become the ultimate fashion accessory for important parties and events in the U.S., something that Segun Gele partially credits himself for.

He says when he moved to Houston, Texas in 2003 from Nigeria, many Nigerian women had stopped wearing their gele because it was just too difficult to tie by themselves. To Segun Gele, this was a great tragedy.

"I mean, you would not find a woman wearing a good headwrap," Segun Gele said. "They would rather wear pantsuits to a Nigerian party. They would rather wear their jeans to a Nigerian party. And when they had the headwrap made, it was just okay."

He first noticed he could turn his skills into a promising business when he offered to tie a woman's head wrap at a friend's wedding...

Segun Gele now charges $650 to tie wraps for brides and their party for Houston weddings, and $1,000 plus hotel, rental car and airfare for out-of-town weddings.

This wedding season he's already flown to Georgia, New Jersey, California, Massachusetts and Maryland. Knowing brides reserve him a year in advance, well aware of his popularity.

It's the only business he's done since he moved to the U.S., and one that's showing no signs of slowing down. He has students that pay to train with the master, flying in from around the U.S. and London.

So long as gele remains a fashion statement for Nigerian women, Segun Gele is sure to remain king of his domain."
Note that this information about and video of Segun Gele could have been included in Part I of this series (headwrapping in the USA). However, since the focus of Segun Gele's art is Nigerian geles, I chose to include this information and video in this post.
*I found a number of internet articles and YouTube videos about tying Yoruba headwraps made of aso-oke. In contrast, I found no articles except this one, and no YouTube videos that mentioned jacquard. I wonder if the statement that "The most popular fabric among Nigerian women is a metallic fabric made from jacquard" is correct (or still correct).
Definition of jacquard
1. A fabric with an intricately woven pattern.

2. A special loom or the method employed in the weaving of a figured fabric.
[named after Joseph M. Jacquard (1752-1834), French inventor]"

4. From "Chic Gele"
"About Us
Growing up in Nigeria I was fascinated by my mother and aunties when they adorn their outfit with the fabulous head tie/gele /ichafu/aso-oke. As gorgeous as their outfits were, it was the beautiful head tie that always seems to stand out and glammed up the whole attire. It was the centerpiece.

As an adult, I started collecting all types of head ties, from the ones made from paper to the threaded aso-oke. I am amazed at how much head ties are underutilized.
ChicGele was born out of my desire to not only sell head ties but to show women how to empower themselves with this beautiful traditional African wear.

With ChicGele, your fabulous ensemble is complete for your next occasion.

Adorn your crown...
Click for page 1 of 5 pages of Aso Oke (65 different fabric designs)

"Ichafu" is the Igbo (Nigerian) term for women's head wraps (the equivalent of the Yoruba word "geles"). Ichafu appear to me to be made from the same fabric as geles and tied the same as those Yoruba head wraps. For examples, watch the video of the Igbo traditional wedding below.

These featured examples are presented in chronological order based on their posting date on YouTube with the oldest dated example given first.

Example #1: How to tie Aso Oke, Gele, Head tie, Head wrap, Scarf, Damask, Singele

DupsiesAfricanAttire Uploaded on Jan 8, 2010

How to tie Aso Oke (Handwoven African Head wrap originally from the Yoruba Tribe in Nigeria)
Selected comments from that video's viewer comment thread

DupsiesAfricanAttire, 2014
"... The head wrap used in this video is a handwoven (net mesh-like) fabric. However we also have the Gele head ties that look like paper."...

DupsiesAfricanAttire, 2013
"... This head wrap is made out of Aso Oke. Crowntex Net Aso Oke to be exact. We have this type of head wrap available for sale"...

Example #2: Segun Gele- Master of Nigeria's Gravity-Defying Headgear

Reginald Bassey, Uploaded on Sep 4, 2010

CNN Marketplace Africa offers viewers a unique window into African business on and off the continent. This week the show profiles Nigerian businessman Segun Olaleye, commonly known as Segun Gele. He has turned tying Nigerian headwraps into a promising business and an artform...

Example #3: DIY Gele Tutorial: Tie Aso-Oke Gele - Layers Technique

NubianwatersPublished on Jul 24, 2013

This is a tutorial on how to tie the Aso-Oke gele on yourself and how to achieve the creation of the layers effect all by yourself! I hope you find the video explanatory enough. :-)

If you have any questions, kindly leave them below and I will try to respond to them the best way I can.

The fabric used in this video is known as "Metallic Aso-Oke" from the western region of Nigeria. It is a traditional fabric and has come a very long way. The fabric has been modified from what it used to be years back when it was thick, heavy & difficult to maneuver. Today, it is light, contemporary & very easy to handle.

This is high quality handwoven fabric from Mobolas Aso-Oke...

Music: "Yanibo" by Kenny K'ore

Example #4: How to tie Gele: Modestina style

Chichichikito, Published on Dec 12, 2013

Find all you gele at


Taiwo & Nkechi (Igbo Traditional Wedding)

Fidelis Williams, Published on Jun 26, 2013

Igbo traditional wedding, Imo state, South-East Nigeria
My guess is that the Igbos borrowed the custom of tying headwraps from the Yorubas. Notice the traditional Igbo beaded head covering that the bride wears.

Also notice the Nigerian (and some other African nations') custom of "spraying" money (showering paper money) on the bride [or on other people such as a person celebrating a birthday or a performer]. Click for a pancocojams post on this custom. That post also shows Nigerian women wearing head wraps.

Thanks for visiting pancocojams.

Visitor comments are welcome.


  1. Really informative post for women who don't know how to tie yoruba geles. These videos will definitely help them for learning. Please keep sharing this type of useful post with us.

    beautiful Nigerian dresses

    1. Thanks for your comment, Banyu Chloe.