Africa

Yoruba Gelede Mask

Q:  I bought this mask last year for $75 on eBay.  There is a receipt showing that the mask was sold in 1970 for $275 at a fundraiser for an art museum.  I haven’t been able to identify it, but the colonial figure on top is interesting. Thanks for all your help so far.  I am a “senior citizen” who began collecting after I bought a mask at our local flea market one year ago, and I hope that I have a few treasures among the trash.  Fred, 1162

A:  This Gelede wooden headdress is a treasure carved from a single piece of light wood. The human face appears to represents a female. It is carved with the classical Yoruba facial features:  heavy eyelids, bulgy almond-shaped eyes, flared nose and compressed full lips. The upper part of the headdress is decorated with a colonial police officer.
The headdresses are worn at an angle on top of the head. They are often carved in two parts, with the lower part often the form of a human face and the upper part with either an elaborate coiffure or a depiction of human activity.
The Gelede dancers are men. They are clad in layers of multicolored cloths and a costume that emphasizes the full breasts, narrow waist and buttocks of a beautiful and graceful woman. The identity of the dancer is not hidden as his face can be seen through the transparent cloth worn over the face.
Today, the Yoruba people form one of the largest tribes in west Africa. They number around 30 million and are predominant in Nigeria where they comprise 21 per cent of the population.  Today, 60 per cent are Christian and another 30 per cent are Muslim. But many, especially in rural areas, still practice old Yoruba traditions.
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2 Comments

  • Eric

    Not exactly a ‘treasure’, as gelede masks of this quality are common… but nonetheless, an authentic, tribally used piece.

  • Bob Ibold

    Yeah, I got a little carried away. Better to call it a “nice addition to your African mask collection.”

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