*inserts Skentele Skontolo by Lagbaja.
Gele is an important accessory in the traditional wardrobe of Nigerian/African women. It is an important part of their dressing. Gele which is called Ichafu in Igbo language is used to complement the iro and buba in Yoruba and goes along with Igbo’s blouse and wrapper. It is also commonly used among the Hausas. The traditional head-tie is referred to as the icing on the cake for women’s traditional outfits, as it is used for coverage of the head, adornment and compliment their outfit.
The wearing of head wraps is traditional for all Nigerians and indeed for most African cultures.It is called varying names in different African countries like Duku in Malawi, and Ghana; Dhuku in Zimbabwe; Doek in South Africa and Namibia; and Tukwi in Botswana. Likewise, the way it is worn varies among different cultures.
Gele is mostly associated with ceremonial wear, but that does not mean it is not used as an everyday wear. For ceremonial gele, it usually covers both the ears and hair of the wearer, whereas the everyday styling will only cover the hair. It can be made from any fabric like ankara, lace, adire and the ageless aso-oke.
In Nigeria, Gele is usually rather large, ornate, and comes in an array of different colours and styles, with each having its own meaning or association. Yoruba women who are unbothered by co-wife rivalry in a polygamous home back then have a style called “gele ma wo’be” (meaning “don’t look there” or “don’t mind them”). “k’elenu so’nu,” which translates to “be careful with what you say with your mouth” was another trending gele style among our mothers. There is also the “Koju sóko” (meaning “face your husband”), to name a few style of the Yorubas.
Meanwhile, the gele artistry has evolved to incorporate a handful of modern styles which have become trending for any kind of Owambe. Styles like straight standard edge geles, the rose-shaped style, the infinity pleats which has gained a cultural ubiquity over the years, scalloped geles, the two-toned butterfly which is a remodeling of the old school koju soko gele, and the modern auto-gele which allows for a seamless use of the already made gele so users don’t have to go through the stress of re-tying for every need.
A more recent trending style of gele is turban which is mostly used as an everyday wear including ceremonial use. Women now seem to prefer wearing turbans instead of the other African gele styles because it is easier to make, comfortable and stylish.
Like Nigerian men with signature fila (cap), some prominent Nigerian women have been able to shake the world’s status quo by liberating the place of women in positions of power with their own unique dress styles and signature gele.
Example of such women is Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, whose style of gele became trending on every social media platforms with the hashtag #BeLikeNgoziChallenge immediately she was elected by WTO members to become the first woman and first African to hold the position of Director-General of the World Trade Organization. Some many social media users including young girls, women, men and even the British High Commissioner to Nigeria, Catriona Laing, joined in the challenge by styling geles like the new WTO boss.
Interestingly, Gele styling is increasingly becoming more than a fortune to the larger Fashion Industry as a thriving, huge, and bombastic sub-sector of the Industry has emerged from the traditional head tie. It has grown to become a profession that provides economic value to its practitioners.
The professional gele styling craft in a short period of existence has produced the likes of CNN featured US-based Hakeem Oluwasegun Olaleye hakym_segungele, Tolu A Ademola oni_gele, Taiwo Adebiyi taiwos_touch to mention a few.