Gelede Headdress

20th century, 1950–2000
Artist Unidentified

Object Place: Republic of Benin


Overall: 16.5 x 20 x 27.5 cm (6 1/2 x 7 7/8 x 10 13/16 in.) Lender Accessory (Hinel base): 42.3 cm (16 5/8 in.)

Accession Number


Medium or Technique

Wood and pigment

Not On View


Africa and Oceania, Contemporary Art



Gelede masquerades celebrate the special powers of female spirits known as, “the mothers”. The mothers possess a powerful life force (ase), which can be used for benevolent of malevolent purposes. The destructive capacity of “the mothers” is called “aje” and is associated with infertility, impotency, and infant mortality. However, “the mothers” also have a benevolent influence that can cure illness and equitably disperse wealth, power, and prestige amongst the Yoruba. The ultimate goal of gelede performances is the maintenance of harmony in the community. The festival consists of a nighttime performance (efe), and an afternoon spectacle, when maskers usually appear in pairs and allude to social roles-the merchant, the market woman, the blacksmith, a man on a bicycle, and the hunter.

This multi-colored headdress might represent a foreigner or a Yoruba man with a French-style military cap. In fact, many gelede performances satirize strangers, whether Fulani, Muslim, French, or British.


illegible written inscription underside of base with two words and a #2.


1970s, purchased in Paris by Geneviève McMillan (b. 1922 - d. 2008), Cambridge, MA; 2008, to the Geneviève McMillan and Reba Stewart Foundation, Cambridge; 2009, gift of the Geneviève McMillan and Reba Stewart Foundation to the MFA. (Accession Date: June 17, 2009)

Credit Line

Gift of Geneviève McMillan in memory of Reba Stewart