In response to this post about Mother’s Day seeming to replace Gelede, reliable sources have stressed that Gelede is traditionally held in the rural areas of Yoruba land and other specific areas but not usually in urban centres. Likely in a bid to explain why they may seem rare to some Yoruba city dwellers. That may be, but even in rural areas, without energy focussed on sustaining yoruba traditions many aspects such as Gelede are bound to have gone into some decline due to urban spread and migration.
This is not new. For example, as far back as 1958 it was noted,
“By 1946, when Murray revisited, the shrine had collapsed and the remaining masks were exposed to the open air. Finally by 1958, the caretaker had died, and a relative said that Gelede had not been performed since before 1945 because the drummers had died and many people had left Badagri ” – Gelede: Art and Female Power Among the Yoruba by Henry John Drewal, Margaret Thompson Drewal
Western propaganda? Maybe, but sadly it’s no secret, to the shame of Nigeria that much of Yoruba agricultural rural areas are neglected, with governors focusing energies and finance on their capital cities , leading to migration away to Lagos and other urban areas.
Traditional shows and performances that in the earlier days must have been quite a spectacle , with time, skill and resources poured into costumes, choreography and accessories in order to draw crowds from far and near, are now in spite of the enthusiasm of the dancers and what’s left of their audience, seeming lacklustre and a bit bedraggled due to poverty and apathy from the rest of the population .
Except when they have been sponsored by foreign charities and organisations like SICA . Its been left to UNESCO to give this aspect of Yoruba culture a bit of limelight, so even to witness the best Gelede Festival one has to go to UNESCO house in Benin.
(visit www.alawoye.com for the full video)
On the other hand more Nigerian Yorubas are spending money joining in with global celebrations like Mother’s Day, and state governors are introducing Easter carnivals with West Indian type costumes “to promote local tourism” while at the same time contradicting itself by pushing #BuyNaija. So in effect, global celebrations and other religious celebrations are pushing or have pushed Yoruba cultural celebrations to the back seat.
What is stopping us from bringing Yoruba traditions like Gelede out of the shadows/rural areas and to the fore front of events ? Wouldn’t that be preferable to what was seen at the Lagos Easter carnival where a few Gelede straggled like an afterthought behind the rows and rows of scantily clad drumming women representing…. “Caribbean Lagos”(?)
If care is not taken we may start seeing Chinese New Year dragons at the Lagos Carnival…..! Anyway, if we put our thinking caps on we would pump this wonderful Yoruba celebration of Womanhood with renewed vigour, dress it in the finest Aso oke and beaded costumes, task our best traditional wood carvers with creating the largest , most exciting, intricate wooden head dresses, wooden breasts and wooden bustiers so that Gelede can be flamboyantly showcased on a day like today International Women’s Day even in urban centres and wherever Yoruba communities find themselves as a way to exhibit to the world our cultural pride and the value we hold in our womenfolk.