Guelede rites in Ofia : When Mothers rise...
Most times, sound comes before sight. You can hear the rumbling of the drums and the jingling sound of their ankle bells before you can see them. Then dancers appear on the dance floor wearing blazing attires and masks that can be as high as wooden towers, carved with colorful tales, social messages, and symbols of powers. The witty performers offer a codified masquerade, with a nocturnal part made of praises and prayers, with chanting and dancing. In the centuries of its existence, the Guelede heritage, proclaimed part of the intangible cultural heritage of Humanity by the UNESCO in 2001, has lost nothing of its splendour.
Even as a radiant chapter of Beninese and Yoruba culture, Guelede goes so much further than a simple dance. It is a society of masks inseparable from a body of rites, myths and rhythms, and from a cult meant to worship the spirits of the Mothers – 'Awon Iya' in the Yoruba language.
The village of Ofia, a stone's throw away from the town of Ketou, is often depicted as one of the first places in Benin to have borrowed and appropriated the Guelede rites. It was before 'Danxomè' became 'Dahomey', and long before Dahomey was named Benin. It was a time when the borders of the kingdom of Ketou and other pre-colonial empires drew the only maps. During that time, the Guelede tradition traveled from Ilobi, Nigeria, to Ofia.
Digital photography. Benin, March 2017 - © Laeïla Adjovi