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African Gele

An African gele is a headwrap style specifically known and used in and around Nigeria, made of stiff, usually colourful fabric, that is then wrapped and moulded into a specific shape. It typically covers the woman’s entire hair and her ears, although earrings lower in lobes may well be visible. Originating with the Yorubas, it is often used for special occasions, such as weddings. The most common fabric used is a local one called “aso oke” which is made in Nigeria from either cotton or silk or a blend of both. However, also well known are damasc, brocade, and other African prints, amongst others. Stiff fabrics are most useful for a gele because they will keep their form. In this vein, stiffer turban fabrics sold on the GoSikh website may well work for creating a gele-type head wrap. African women wearing the gele are seen locally as queens: beautiful, feminine, and regal. The gele is more beautiful to them than a tiara or crown. The fabrics are often made with a shiny or metallic sheen. Local African television has recently used African women in gele in various high positions. Although head covering in African slave colonies started out with a dark past, with women being forced to cover their head so as not to “distract and confuse” European men, the women took that requirement and owned ​it, using it to their benefit to make themselves the most beautiful head coverings they could. Other areas of Africa have other head coverings that look different, and these seem to have mostly evolved at similar times, from a similar reason, albeit with vastly different looks in the end. The gele is one of the best known and most regal forms of African headdress. Recently, the gele has been taken to new heights of embellishment including rhinestones, silk flowers, and sequins, to make it more showy. Some different forms of gele have different names including but not limited to: “butterfly gele”, “rose gele”, and “double gele”. Many youtube tutorials exist on how to tie a gele. For some reason, the queenly look of women in gele seems to be almost the most well accepted by the European/American/Caucasian egocentric community where headwear is not deemed culturally “appropriate” by many anymore. Perhaps it is because the women sometimes wear the gele along with outfits that some other cultures which are seen as “oppressing women” would deem inappropriate, such as with shoulders and arms bare, low cut tops, and short skirts. Therefore to the European/American/Caucasian community maybe it ends up obvious that this is not about oppressing women in this case. This remains somewhat unclear. There is a recent trend to try and keep those same European/American/Caucasian people from wearing cultural headwear such as gele, deeming it “cultural appropriation”. Opinions seem divided on this subject, with many stating that if a community first of all subjects women to forced covering, oppressing them, how is it fair for that society to turn around and start doing the same thing, making it popular by mimicking them years after they bullied them into doing so? Others seem to think that fast-tracking any kind of headwrap to fashion shows and the bling of the red carpet situations, awards ceremonies and more, can be only beneficial long term for acceptance of all people who wear cultural headwear, especially as there are many of them.

(Photo by hannah grace on Unsplash)

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