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Gelede mask of a European
19th century AD
Gelede is one of the Yoruba's three major masking traditions. This mask, made of wood, wool and raw cotton, is of a European; outsiders are often used in masquerade as a symbol of external powers. They are depicted as caricatures and their mannerisms are often skilfully ridiculed as a way of affirming local values and identity. Headdresses portraying Europeans may have been used during the colonial period to criticise the policies of the colonial administration.
The Gelede tradition aims to appease aje or 'the mothers' who control fertility, life, and the death of children through dance, mask, costume and poetry. It is said that a woman, Yewejabe, first danced Gelede, although only men do so today. Gelede usually takes place between March and May and the masks are danced in pairs during ceremonies to promote social harmony and well-being in the community.