16″ tall (33.7 cm)
Private Collection – California, USA.
These somewhat idiosyncratic wooden headdresses used in Yoruba Gelede ritual dances balances symmetry and proportion. In view of the spiritual power attributed to Yoruba women, Gelede headdresses commonly pay tribute to priestesses and female devotees of various gods. When they appear as a couple, the mirroring of the male and female figures could be an allusion to Shango and his wife Oya, common characters in Gelede masked performance. But equally the well-balanced characteristics of this headdress might also simply represent the desire for balance in life.
Most Gelede headdresses have three short vertical scarification lines (pele) on the cheeks, or sometimes on the forehead of the human face. Traditionally, the Yoruba regarded such markings highly.
The Yoruba people have three major festivals at which such headdresses are used: The Efe/Gelede but also the Egungun and the Epa/Elefon ceremonies. The western Yoruba people practice the Efe/Gelede cult to celebrate the mystical power (ashe) of elderly women. Traditionally, they believe that the older women possess the power that can be used for creative or destructive purposes.