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Gelede for International Women’s Day (Videos)

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.

 

A Gelede masquerader dancing in the courtyard of the Ibara palace in Abeokuta, Nigeria.
A Gelede masquerader dancing in the courtyard of the Ibara palace in Abeokuta, Nigeria.

 

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.

Gelede masker resting during performance, Egbado-Yoruba, Nigeria, 1971. Photo by H.J. Drewal and M.T. Drewal. Submitted by Henry Drewal.
Gelede masker resting during performance, Egbado-Yoruba, Nigeria, 1971. Photo by H.J. Drewal and M.T. Drewal. Submitted by Henry Drewal.

 

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.

gelede britannica indianapolis museum eiteljorg

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

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