Gelede Masquerade: Imagery and Motif

The fact that everything is done in pairs often that are directly opposite of each other is really interesting. In fact in the masquerades the costumes have the physical markers of gender i.e. hips or breasts heavily accentuated. They almost become a gross caricature of who they are trying to impersonate. It also makes a clear divide of women and men – possibly because women can pose a threat but also get respect from people in the society. There is a sexual element to all of this especially in the costumes that are created and worn in these masquerades. But it also shows respect and homage to their elders and ancestors who would have worn similar things in their own masquerades.
The Gelede headdress and superstructure on top of it allows for a lot of artistic freedom and cultural interpretation.  Drewal goes into a lot of detail and provides several example of headdress that can stress different ideas like the difference in appearance of westerners and even more religious satire. This could be seen as an attack on both of these things or it could be a way of informing the people about these things but in a way that does not inspire the greatest of confidence in them.( Somewhat similar to the idea of joking relationships? These often feel tension filled and stressed and I imagine that for the women in these Yoruba cults it can be hard to feel at ease sometimes.)
The fact that this is a big cultural ideal that covers a large part of Nigeria and of Yoruba ideas but it can have subtle differences depending on the “cult” (i.e. Egungun). I wonder if this idea is replicated elsewhere in Africa?
Even though the women in this situation might appear to have great power as well as respect from their community they are in a perilous situation. With this power they have, it could easily change and they could be accused of trying to harm someone or of doing some misdeed.
The whole idea of the witches (aje) or the negative use of power that these women can have is in itself an interesting idea. The power itself is very strong and it is mentioned that it can be used for good or bad. There is reference on page 18 that hints that if this power was harnessed for good then it could allow the people the same technological advances that can be seen used by white people. There are references to medical advances mainly such as ones that could be used for pregnant women. The powers all relate to some kind of social issue such as medical, could this be a hint at a problem in their society that they are looking for a way to explain? In the description of how the powers can negatively affect people or rather what they can do, a lot of it revolves around children and pregnancy.
When the witches do use their power for good, they are almost seen as healers with a vast knowledge of the use of medicines and herbs. More than that they are also seen as a moderating force in the society and hold a lot of political power, wealth and prestige. But according to myth they once had total power over gods and men but since they abused this power and did not stay calm and rational it was taken away. Could this myth in itself be serving the purpose of insuring that the women in society who have the power at the moment do not attempt to take full control?
If the power that these witches have can be used for either good or bad, does this mean that it is  a moral choice that the woman herself has as to where she uses her powers? Or is it in fact a reflection on society’s opinion that women can either be born good or bad?


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