The Yoruba are one of the largest ethno-linguistic or ethnic groups in West Africa. The majority of the Yoruba speak the Yoruba language and are found in Nigeria, constituting approximately 21 percent of its total population, and around 30 million individuals throughout West Africa.
The traditional Yoruba women’s outfit consists of four parts: the buba (a blouse like shirt), the iro (wrap skirt), the gele (head tie/wrap), and the ipele or iborun (shawl or shoulder sash). Aso oke is a hand loomed cloth woven by the Yoruba people and it is traditionally used to make the ensemble, although in more recent times organza, taffeta, damask and laces have been used. Stiff fabrics are preferred, at least for the gele, so that it holds it shape throughout the day.
The gele is wrapped around the head but unlike most head wraps that lie flat on contour of the head, the gele is manipulated to stand away from the head, creating an enormous headpiece.
Over time and with more wealth becoming available to the commoners (versus the royalty), the size and quality of workmanship and fabrication in the gele became to be a potent symbol of a woman’s socio-economic status.