A Community Spectacle to Inspire one to Worship

Gelede Festival (Nigeria)

Map of Country

Map of Nigeria ( http://www.apin.harvard.edu/map.html)



Within this website, you will be introduced to a unique celebration that takes place in the Yoruba culture of Southwestern Nigeria and the Republic of Benin , similar to North American festivals of Mardi Gras and Carnival. Gelede is a celebration that involves dance, the arts, and music from all around Yoruba society and pays tribute to female's creative and mystical power from ancestors, elders and deities—women known as “our mothers”. The celebration needs to be preserved within the Yoruba society because it has so much meaning to every individual within this subculture, allowing each to love and laugh and honor the feminine contribution that women bring to Nigeria 's strong cultural heritage. One will learn about Gelede's unique rituals, cultural genesis, and more specific details of the celebration within this website.


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The Gelede Festival (http://www.virginia.edu/artmuseum/VirtualExhibitions/african/gelede_context.html) Gelede Dancer including the traditional headdress


Nigeria is an exhilarating country that is filled with arts, music, and numerous celebrations for all to enjoy. Celebrations range from the Ibu Afo festival which marks the beginning of the rainy season and agricultural year to Issa Aka which is a celebration during yam festivals in August. The Yoruba tribe celebrates a popular festival held several times a year involving the arts, colorful masks, striking headdresses, and music to promote diplomacy and social connections during the end of dry seasons or time of need, with a specific focus on celebrating the role of women in their culture. Within the website one will learn about different rituals, cultural genesis, and the spectacle of the Gelede celebration in Nigeria , Africa and the importance of protecting this cultural tradition for future generations of Nigerians and the world. One learn the core values of the significance of women, gender roles, and social sterotypes within the Gelede celebration.


Context of Nigeria


Nigeria is located in Western Africa on the Gulf of Guinea and lies in between Benin and Cameroon . The geographic land coordinates for Nigeria are 10 00 North, 8 00 East ( Nigeria 1). The area of Nigeria is slightly more than twice the size of the state of California . . The highest point of elevation in Nigeria is Chappal Waddi which stands at 2,419 miles and the lowest point of elevation is the Atlantic Ocean (Facts of Nigera 2).

Nigeria lies close to the equator causing dramatic shifts in climate across different parts of Nigeria . Nigeria is arid in the Northern region, tropical in the center, and equatorial in the Southern regions. Nigeria can get extremely hot at times, the south region has temperatures around 90 degrees Fahrenheit; the northern regions have temperatures between sixty degrees and one hundred degrees Fahrenheit (Seach 2). Nigeria has two seasons- the rainy season which lasts from May to September in the North and March to November in the South (rainfall decreases from south to north and temperatures are normally high); the other season is dry ( Nigeria 3). The southern part of Nigeria also has a season called the Harmattan season where the climate gets either very cold or dry and taking place between December and January. Nigeria consists of two vegetation types -savanna and forest. There are plentiful amounts of quality soil within Nigeria , although some areas are exposed to erosion, Nigeria has vegetation that works for all (Falola 16).

  The first actual group of people to live in Nigeria was the Nok people who made beautiful terra-cotta sculptures and worked with iron and tin to produce items to live off of (Falola 4). Archeological evidence suggests that Yoruba people have lived in Nigeria since prehistoric times. Even though the Yoruba's had prominence at one time, the kingdom broke up into many independent kingdoms via a series of wars (some generated by the slave trade). The first centralized state in Nigeria was Kanem-Bornu which at the time was converted to Islam because of its rulers. Nigeria 's constitution states that there is a federal system, which is run by an executive president, a judiciary, and an independent legislature. Ethnic political parties were formed after 1945, each struggling for power and rule. The three leading ethnic groups in Nigeria consist of the Hausa, the Igbo, and the Yoruba and the politics are both assorted and hazardous (Falola 11).


Origins of Gelede

The Gelede festival was founded among southwestern Yoruba people celebrating womanhood and mothers. Gelede has a storybook origin that involves the transformation of matriarchal society into a patriarchal society and targeted to reach out and soothe the anger of mythical mothers and ancestral spirits. It is believed that Yoruba woman possess the secret of life itself with an intimate connection to almost being godlike. This celebration is specifically tied to rituals pertaining to the “great mother earth”, serving to protect and honor women within the community as treasured for their talents and community healing powers (Gelede 2 ). This tribute not only pays homage to elderly women's power of protecting fertility and community well being, but also those who are responsible for human barrenness and death. The celebration that takes place in the spring, when the rain comes, to ensure the community will have fertile land and a superior harvesting season. The Yoruba also have a Gelede ritual if the community encounters an epidemic or drought to help bring wellness to the community in time of need.



  Before the Gelede festival even occurs, a particular date is set with male priests notifying the community regarding the festival location and time. Messengers are sent throughout the community to inform singers, drummers and maskers about the festival in order to prepare for this festive event. Masks are specifically made for the celebration and masks previously used are “brought back to new” –all intricate and representing a vast variety of motifs. The Yoruba create animal's masks such as birds which symbolize messenger of the “mothers,” or masks depicting snakes which symbolize power. Before the festival begins, family members return back home from their ventures since this festival serves as an opportunity for family members to regroup and enjoy family culture again (Occasions 1). On the afternoon of Gelede, a priestess will prepare a meal in hopes that all food being sacrificed will bring good fortune to the community. The festival begins with a concert and held in the market place, lasting during the duration of the night called Efe night. The celebration consists of many masked actors who perform a call to the gods (Falola 3). If you notice below the picture shows an example of a Gelede mask that is worn by the Yoruba in the traditional festival. The performance also includes an orchestra that keeps the beat for actors, including intricate dance steps and drumming that give rhythm to the dances all done in honor of “our mothers”, female ancestors and female orisha (goddesses). The Gelede dancers are men, yet represent both men and women in their performance; the dancers are hidden under a costume of brightly colored fabric composed of borrowed women's head ties, skirts—another symbol of the cultural theme “Our Mothers”. The four & five year old boy's performance first, older children go next, followed by teenagers and then adult men. The dance always ends when the sun sets, with a special celebrated mask which closes the festival (Occasions 4). Although the festival ends, the warm spirit of the celebration remains in everyone's hearts for the remainder of the year.



To the left is a traditional Gelede mask worn by the Yoruba during the celebration





Prognosis for Gelede

The Gelede celebration is increasing in popularity from the past years and people in Nigeria and around the world are still interested in this cultural expression. In an effort of keep this cultural tradition alive, the United Nations has published a list of master pieces of oral and heritage which includes the Gelede ritual ceremonial event to help preserve this as a preserved cultural community heritage. The Yoruba say it best, “The World is fragile,” meaning that the Gelede celebration is “warring with the evil of the world without killing or maiming” (Oral Heritage of Gelede 3). The preservation of the Gelede celebration and its significance and homage to women is a critical foundation of a community in so far as its cultural and social identity. UNESCO has established specific requirements to preserve this tradition by teaching in schools, setting up national folklore councils to represent interest groups and encouraging related fairs and exhibitions.



Gelede is an extravagant celebration that the Yoruba people celebrate annually to make sure that the community would have a fine harvesting season and the land will be fertile for crops. The festival involves colorful masks, striking headdresses, festive music, and miraculous performances and importantly the celebration of womanhood. Within the website you have learned about different rituals, cultural genesis, and the spectacle of the Gelede celebration in Nigeria , Africa . Hopefully if you are interested in visiting Nigeria , you will know want to visit during the Gelede celebration and experience this extraordinary event.


Internet References Cited


Peer-Reviewed References Cited

  • Austin-Broose, Diane   2003 Globalisation and the Genesis of Values : pp. 1, 18-20
  • Falola, Toyin

    2004 The History of Nigeria : pp. 3-18

  • McNamara, Olwen   2002 Rites of Passage in Initial Teacher Training. British Educational Research   Journal (28) 6: 16
  • Rozen, David   2004 On Ritual and Cooperation : pp. 2, 529
  • Seach, John

    2004 Geography of Nigeria : pp.1, 3-6

  • Turner, Edith and Victor. “Religious Celebrations,” 25 Sept. 2004


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