African Tradition: secret society in Benin

Benin Ketou GUELEGUE

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Benin Ketou GUELEDE 1



Guèlèdè is a secret society of Yoruba community. They are mostly present in Nigeria and constitute the most important urban civilization. They are also present in Benin and Togo where they are minority. In Africa the Yoruba traders are present everywhere in West and central since the 20th century. Guèlèdè mask characterize the unity and diversity of common origin. The mother city is Ilé Ifè of Nigeria. The Yoruba people believe that the first person appear on the Earth in there. Guèlèdè is important is Benin and in 2001 UNESCO recognize it as immaterial heritage.

In Benin the rite of Guèlèdè is done in Ketou, Pobè, Savè. The practice of this culture is different in each community and conduct by a woman. Guèlèdè is a rite of culture and fecundity. It is why it is conducted by old women called “Awon iya wa” our mothers in Yoruba language. They are thought to have a lot of spiritual power and can obtain protection against diseases and sicknesses, death, wealthy and fecondity. The term Guèlèdè is unlimited and the masks have double aspects social and religious. Guèlèdè used to be played in two periods one for day and another one for night.

Mask in Benin transform the person who is wearing it and make him concretize the supernatural in human world. There are many different Guèlèdè masks you can discover them and their meaning in Guèlèdè museum in Ketou and the Ethnography museum of PortoNovo, Zinsou foundation….

One of the first Guèlèdè mask.




It is one of secret society of Benin. It was the police agent of the kings. It role is the security of the city of PortoNovo in night.

Zangbeto is the only mask originally from Benin. They are especially present in the South and the center of the country. The thieves in night are always arrested and give to police in the day. Zangbeto is always played to enjoy people.

Zangbeto is a big mask cover by colorful straw. Zangbeto represent non-human spirit, the nature strength and night which occupy the earth before human. The people who wear the mask belong to a small secret society and nobody else knows their identity.


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