This mask, called “Gelede,” forms part of the rituals of a male initiation society, which takes place before the rainy season. The mask is the face of a woman with an ambivalent positive/negative look. When viewed negatively she represents a witch, and when viewed positively she represents a mother. The Yoruba people celebrate these festivals with the aim of controlling feminine power, and to honor mothers who are knowledgeable about herbal medicines and who ensure health, prestige, and power. Members of the society dance with the mask on their head as a headpiece and cover their face with a light veil that allows them to see without being seen. The mask is complete with a costume that covers the dancer's body, with padding to exaggerate their hips and buttocks, to represent feminine beauty through voluminous shapes. The festivals highlight the role of ancestors who were dedicated to maintaining social balance, the importance of honoring the power of women (Gelede), and the duty bestowed on youth to pass on their cultural heritage.


  • Title: “Gelede” Mask
  • Creator: Unknown
  • Date Created: 1800/1899
  • Physical Dimensions: w20 x h31 x d30 cm
  • Provenance: This piece comes from a collection assembled in 1887 by the then Marine Infantry Lieutenant Luis Sorela Guaxardo-Faxardo (1858-1930), who was sent to Equatorial Guinea and was commissioned to prepare a scientific mission along the West African coast and learn about the organization of colonial settlements set up by some European nations. The expedition set off on February 11, 1887 and finished in January 1888, covering the West African coast from Senegal to Gabon and collecting diverse ethnographic objects along the way.
  • Type: Sculpture/ Ritual Objects
  • External Link: CERES
  • Photographer: Pablo Linés Viñuales, 2010
  • Materials: Wood, pigments
  • Cultural Context: Yoruba, Benin, Nigeria

Get the app

Explore museums and play with Art Transfer, Pocket Galleries, Art Selfie, and more


Google apps