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The Oral Heritage of Gelede

Benin (supported by Nigeria and Togo)

For 100 years, the Yoruba-nago, Fon and Mahi communities have practiced their rites and dances after the harvest, as well as during droughts and epidemics. The ritual, featuring carved masks, is sung in Yoruba, recalling the history and myths of the Yoruba-nago people.  The community is divided into groups which could be led by a man or a woman - the only mask society where women can play that role. Singers accompanied by a drum perform in this night-time ceremony, followed by dancers accompanied by an orchestra. Satirical masks mock certain types of behaviour.

The mythical origin of the Gelede is said to reflect the transformation from a matriarchal society into a patriarchal society. It aims to pacify the anger of the mythical mothers and the spirits of the ancestors. Animal figures are often used -- the snake, symbol of power, or the bird, messenger of the "mothers."

Threats: Technological development and tourism jeopardize the future of the Gelede.

Action plan:  Proposals include the creation of community centres for performances and training of craftspeople and students. An inventory of the best Gelede groups, masks and craftspeople is being compiled.  Audio-visual material is needed. Heritage laws are being revised. National and international festivals are planned and craftwork will be sold.