Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Yoruba Gelede Masquerade (information & four video examples)

Edited by Azizi Powell

This post provides information about the Yoruba Gelede masquerade which is performed in Benin, Nigeria, and Togo (West Africa). This post also showcases four videos of this masquerade.

The content of this post is presented for cultural, religious, and aesthetic purposes.

All copyrights remain with their owners.

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

"The Gelede spectacle of the Yoruba is a public display by colorful masks which combines art and ritual dance to amuse, educate and inspire worship.[1] Gelede celebrates “Mothers” (awon iya wa), a group that includes female ancestors and deities as well as the elderly women of the community, and the power and spiritual capacity these women have in society. However, this power may also be destructive and take the form of witchcraft; therefore, Gelede serves the function of appeasing this power, as well.[2]...

Gelede Spectacle

Although Gelede ceremony may be staged at any time of the year (to better the lot of an individual, to cleanse the society of pestilence, to induce rain, to enrich human fertility, to enlist the support of supernatural forces and the "powerful mothers" in wartime, and to honor the dead), the most elaborate performance occurs during the annual festival.

Once the exact dates of the festival are fixed, usually through divination, the Iyalase notifies the head of the community and the important chiefs. Messages then go out to all members of the Gelede society outside the town or working far away to return home for the celebration.

The festival begins with an all-night concert called efe, which features the Efe male mask, who uses satire to entertain and educate. Given the concern of the Gelede society with peace and social stability, it is not surprising that didactic themes recur in efe songs.

After the efe dance, most of the attendees spend the morning sleeping in preparation for the afternoon dance, which takes place in the marketplace and features pairs of male dancers who perform to fast-paced music with a vigorous beat.

The Gelede ceremony involves carefully choreographed dance, singing and music, and especially drumming. The performances are given by men, wearing masks that feature sculpted images of scenes including animals and people or sewing machines and drums. The pairs of men masquerade as women to amuse, please and placate the mothers who are considered very powerful, and who may use their powers for good or destructive purposes. These powers are especially linked to childbirth. The abilities they possess may be activated either consciously or unconsciously.[3]"...

"The Egbado people also now known as Yewa, are amalgamated agriculturalists and artisan textile processing Yoruboid-speaking people that forms a sub-set of the Larger Yoruba ethnic group, inhabiting the eastern area of Ogun West Senatorial District, Ogun State, in south-west Nigeria, West Africa. In 1995, the Egbado people changed their name to the Yewa, which is the name of the River Yewa that passes through their land....

...[Information about Egbado [Yewa] masquerade] Gelede pays homage to the spiritual powers of women, especially elderly women known affectionately as "our mothers," awon iya wa. The powers possessed by such women, comparable to those of the gods, spirits, or ancestors, may be used for the benefit or the destruction of society. When manifesting their destructive dimension such elderly women are termed aje ("witches"). If angered, they can bring down individuals and entire communities...

The Egbado are known for developing a popular style of music, called Bolojo, in the 1970s. Their population level is uncertain, but may be around 500,000.

...The afternoon after Efe night is reserved for the performance of an elaborate series of Gelede maskers whose images and actions embellish and intensify reality to create exaggerated visions of maleness and femaleness and specific social groups and roles. The maskers, all males, impersonate both men and women. The first to appear are the youngest dancers, enthusiastically encouraged by friends and relatives who gather around them as they attempt their first steps to the intricate, changing rhythms of the drummers. Their dance instructors in the Gelede society follow closely, giving advice and encouragement during the performance.

...Located between the Weme River in the Republic of Benin (RPB) and the Ogun River in southwestern Nigeria, western Yoruba-speaking peoples (Ketu, Egbado, Ohori, and Anago) are renowned for an elaborate masked performance tradition known as Gelede. The Ketu-Yoruba people are credited with the invention of Gelede sometime in the latter part of the eighteenth century according to oral traditions throughout the region. A popular Yoruba saying proclaims, oju to ba ri Gelede ti de opin iran ("The eyes that have seen Gelede, have seen the ultimate spectacle!"). Gelede's affective power and impact comes from its multi-media format in which the arts of song, dance, costume and music combine to create moving artistic experiences...

[A description of Gelede mask]Gelede of porcupine, Egbado-Yoruba, Nigeria, 1978. Photo by H.J. Drewal and M.T. Drewal. Submitted by Henry Drewal.
"Animals in other Gelede masks may be used for satiric purposes to criticize antisocial actions or attributes. Porcupines, because of their voracious appetites and slow, sluggish movement, are sometimes a metaphor for gluttonous or selfish persons. A headdress depicting a plump porcupine devouring a corncob conveys its greed and thus warns/reminds the audience about proper social behavior."
WARNING: The comment section of that informative blog post about the Egbado Yoruba culture contains profanity and sexually explicit spam.
Additional information about Gelede is found in the video summaries that are found below.

These examples are given in chronological order according to their publishing dates on YouTube with the oldest dated example given first.

Example #1: Gelede Preview -

Awo Ifálojú, Uploaded on Mar 4, 2008

This is a short video preview of Gelede festivals held at certain select locations of Yoruba land, this comprises the largest spectacle of Gelede across Yoruba land and Africa, held at the UNESCO Gelede House in northern Rep. of Benin,...

Example #2: The Oral Heritage of Gelede

UNESCO, Uploaded on Sep 26, 2009

UNESCO: Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity - 2008
Description: The Gelede is performed by the Yoruba-Nago community that is spread over Benin, Nigeria and Togo. For more than a century, this ceremony has been performed to pay tribute to the primordial mother Iyà Nlà and to the role women play in the process of social organization and development of Yoruba society.
The Gelede takes place every year after the harvests, at important events and during drought or epidemics and is characterized by carved masks, dances and chants, sung in the Yoruba language and retracing the history and myths of the Yoruba-Nago people.

The ceremony usually takes place at night on a public square and the dancers prepare in a nearby house. The singers and the drummers are the first to appear. They are accompanied by an orchestra and followed by the masked dancers wearing splendid costumes. There is a great deal of preparatory craftwork involved, especially mask carving and costume making. The performances convey an oral heritage that blends epic and lyric verses, which employ a good deal of irony and mockery, supported by satirical masks. Figures of animals are often used, such as the serpent, a symbol of power, or the bird, the messenger of the mothers.

The community is divided into groups of men and women led by a male and a female head. It is the only known masked society, which is also governed by women. Although the Gelede has nowadays adapted to a more patriarchal society, the oral heritage and dances can be considered as a testimony of the former matriarchal order.

Technical development is resulting in a gradual loss of traditional know-how, and tourism is jeopardizing the Gelede by turning it into a folklore product. Nevertheless, the Gelede community shows great awareness of the value of their intangible heritage, which is reflected in the efforts put into the preparation work and in the growing number of participants.

Country(ies): Benin; Nigeria; Togo
This video summary is reformatted to enhance reading clarity.

Example #3: Behind the mask of a West African tradition

AFP news agency, Uploaded on Oct 30, 2009

For more than 100 years, the Yoruba and Nago peoples of West Africa have performed the gelede, a masked song and dance ceremony recognised by UNESCO as a masterpiece of oral cultural heritage. It's performed to mark major events -- in particular the annual harvest --but also plays an important role in society. Duration: 02:18.

Example #4: Gelede at SICA 2011

Jelili Atiku, Published on Aug 23, 2012

The poem by M.O. Okogie in 1965, aptly describes GELEDE (or EFE) DANCE.
Okogie writes:

Gelede is another masquerade of repute
Here in the western Coast of the Bight of Benin:
He is grotesque in shape and he is less fleet of foot
He is cumbersome, ugly, and hefty, within.
There he goes in the street and is followed by children:
He is waving on hand his horse tail in response
To the adulations and praises of women
Whom he eyes with his head one way bent in askance.

He is out on the day after his midnight play:
For donations he dances and shakes his jingling feet:
He is bugbear to those at some distance away
Who are not his men but commoners of the street.
There are singers of women and drummers of men
When he dances at night in the Gelede way.
It is good to see him, as dancers were often
Beat the ground to the music and twist in the play.

The poem was cited in: Taiwo, O. (1965)(Ed), "Collected Poems for Secondary Schools-Book", (Revised Edition), Macmillan Education Limited, London, page 13.

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