Odelay Society

Back to all glossary items

A men' society of Yoruba origin that, like the Ojeh society (q.v.), emerged first among Africans liberated from slave ships by the Royal Navy in Freetown and the villages of the Sierra Leone peninsula in the course of the 19th century. According to John Nunley, who has studied the society, its organisation and masquerades draw upon different indigenous Yoruba traditions such as those of the Gelede, Egungun and Hunting societies. including the worship of Ogun, the Yoruba god of iron. Its most familiar manifestations are in street processions to mark weddings or the return of hunters from the bush, where groups dressed in matching costume (ashoebi) combine with musicians and a dancing masquerader. Odelay masquerades in the later 20th century became known for their variety and inventiveness. Whereas older headpieces generally show only a serene painted female face or a carved antelope head, some of the headpieces recorded by Nunley from the 1980s are highly elaborate compositions in a wide variety of natural and man-made materials combining what he characterises as contrasting elements of the fancy and the fierce. Odelay groups have also been involved in the construction of floats for Freetown' Lantern Parade (q.v.).

  • J.W.Nunley, Moving with the Face of the Devil (Urbana/Chicago 1987)