Home norman's travels Benin Story of the Masquerade
Story of the Masquerade PDF Print E-mail


Hyena Dancer

" Hyena Dancer. "

story teller

" Telling a story to a captive audience, Benin. "


My fascination with traditional art form was forever changed when I sat in on a masquerade festival while I was headed to Togo along the coast in Benin took on a new perspective when for the first time I saw African art in motion. To  see the mask completed by a full adornment of costume and character opened the concept of function in art.


There was streams of people gathering near the center of town under large trees as a man sang out. I could see as I neared the groups of people there already that something was up. I soon found out that a masquerade festival was unfolding. As I joined the groups it was very apparent that all the children were gathered on one side of the compound while the adults sat across on the other side. A man was singing out instructions to the community as drums filled the air. It was explained to me that the children were there to learn the lessons of their ancestors so they were gathered and by all the excitement, ready to learn. I joined the children thinking that I also wanted to learn more about African art form in motion.


My spot for the show

" Ready to watch the Masquerade dancers withe some children, Benin."


The Gelede Fon Masquerade festival is a complex well coordinated affair. The dancers identities are kept secret to allow for total focus on the story of the mask they wear. The Yoruba people who celebrate the Gelede Fon  Masquerade utilize the masked dancers whose spirit is that of the mask. The drums provided the beat for complicated dance steps to bring to life the mask. A man sang out an introduction to each dancers plot inviting the crowd to become part of the story.

man singing

A man sings with passion the story about to unfold, Gelede Fon Masquerade festival, Benin."

yoruba dancer

" Yoruba dancer - Gelede Fon Masquerade Festival , Benin."

The dancing continued all day and I for was amazed at the stamina of the drummers and dancers. The heat and humidity pushed some of the dancers to pass out as drummers would rotate their turn providing the rhythm of the day.


yoruba dancer, motherhood

" the tale of motherhood, traditional Yoruba body mask in motion, Gelede Fon Masquerade Festival , Benin."

water mask

" Yoruba Masquerader magically pumps water with the story of waters importance told through dance."

Each mask possessed the dancer as stories of motherhood, water, the dangers of animals  and even the message of safe sex were told trough out the day. At one point the hyena dancer decided I was to be his prey. The hyena would crouch and watch me then explode from all fours to a bipedal deity that chased me around the compound with his jaws snapping at me. The production of each dancer was truly amazing and the execution flawless. This day truly brought to life the masks that normally are displayed on a wall, from this day on when I see a mask I try to imagine the mask in it's animated state.


Yoruba elephant

"  Yoruba Elephant Masquerader displaying a captured park ranger. "


" Hyena Yoruba dancer, Gelede Fon Masquerade Festival , Benin."

All rights reserved,Aru Studios.