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The Gelede Mask Practice

Ketou, Benin

The city of Kétou is considered by all known sources as the birthplace of the Gelede mask practice. The origins of this mask practice would also go back almost as far back as the foundation of Kétou's kingdom.

In Kétou, the Gelede is a secret society to which one adheres to protect oneself from the death, from the disease, to ensure its blossoming, the wealth and the fertility. The Gelede appears as society's response to witchcraft, causing calamities such as epidemics or drought according to local beliefs. The woman is the key that opens the door to the understanding of the symbolic and ritual context of Gelede. Indeed, in [Yoruba] society, the woman is supposed to possess a vital force that presents two facets: the positive one, as creator and protector of life, endowed with the knowledge of the curative powers of plants, regulating force guaranteeing social and moral order; the other negative, destructive, responsible for infertility, drought, epidemics and death. The Gelede would be the tribute to pay to the mystical powers of women, which must be protected and must be appeased in order to transform them into a beneficial power for society. To appease "mothers" as it is customary to call them, men put on their heads the mask. With a light scarf and a dress with long sleeves, they hide their physiognomy; they tie bells on their ankles and dance.

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