Snake Cult Mask, Gelede Society

Yoruba peoples

Federal Republic of Nigeria

Snake Cult Mask, Gelede Society, n.d.

  • On View

Polychromed wood

Dimensions: 17 × 17 1/4 in. (43.2 × 43.8 cm)

Gift of Justice and Mrs. G. Mennen Williams, 1973.28

Male dancers wore this mask at Gelede Society rituals that take place each year at the beginning of the new agricultural season. This ritual honors the women of the community known as the “great mothers,” which consist of pregnant women, menopausal and post-menopausal women, elderly women, and ancestors. In Yoruba culture these women are a force for both creativity and destruction, and possess the power to influence the lives of the community in either a beneficial or destructive way. The beard carved into this mask represents elderly women. Its dark, indigo eyes indicate deep knowledge and the ability to see through dark waters. The superstructure of the mask, created by a coiled snake, portrays a woman’s inner powers. Because the snake is capable of traveling on land, through trees, and in water it is a symbol of transformation in Gelede Society. Standing on the crown of the mask is a blue heron, pecking at the snake. Associated with witchcraft, this bird serves as a warning of the great mother’s destructive powers.

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