African designs, £9.99
Height: 56.000 cm
Collected for the Colonial and Indian
Exhibition of 1886
Gift of A.R. Elliott
Africa, Oceania, Americas
Wooden mask for Gelede masquerade
Yoruba, probably late 19th century
The Yoruba of Nigeria produce a wide variety of art forms in different materials for royalty, domestic and ritual purposes. Ancestors and gods are worshipped and honoured by annual ceremonies and by regular worship at shrines. There are four Yoruba deities, or orisha, which require masks, staffs, bowls and carved figures: Ifa (divination), Eshu/Elegba (trickster), Ogun (iron and war) and Shango (lightning and thunder).
They also have three major masking traditions, of which Gelede is one. Gelede is about appeasing 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 is danced in pairs. Costumes are bulky, emphasizing breasts and buttocks with the masks worn slanting over the top of the head. There are four groups of masks: those for role recognition, hierarchy, commemoration and satire. This mask is typical of those representing hierarchy, with three figural elements arranged one on top of another.
H.M. Cole (ed.), I am not myself: the art of ma, Los Angeles monograph series, no. 26 (Museum of Cultural History, University of California, 1985)