Gelede mask

traditional wooden mask

This mask is on display in the 'Life in West Africa' section of the museum.

  • Yoruba, Nigeria, 20th century
  • Accession number 49.41.15

African masks and masquerade

People in many parts of Africa still perform masked dances on important ceremonial occasions.

The mask is always worn with a costume that both hides and transforms the wearer's identity. Masked dancers give fixed identities to unknowable or unstable forces, including gods and spirits. Their dramatic ritual performances help to control the unstable forces that rule during times of transition - at the change of seasons, at initiation of the young to adulthood and at death.

Gelede is a masquerade performed to honour the spiritual powers of elderly women.