Geles are those stunning African headwraps that you see on African women (and women of African extraction) everywhere. Gele ( pronounced sort of like GAY-LEE) is a Yoruba word and the name is a cultural nod to the Yoruba people of southern Nigeria who for centuries have been renonowned for the creation of elaborate, elegant female headwraps.
The Yoruba people are one of the largest ethnic groups in West Africa, numbering between 30 and 50 million. They have a long history of creativity in art and design. The gele is a Yoruba gift to women of color all over the world.
It is a quintessentially African garment made from a length of stiff woven fabric, most often damask, cotton brocade, or a thickly woven African silk called Aso-ok. Every African girl learns how to wrap a gele the way American teenagers learn to apply eye makeup.
What is fascinating about the gele as a personal fashion statement is that, since the shape is mutable and changeable with every wearing, it is the skill of the wrapper and the beauty and texture of the fabric that creates the look. It is as if you design your own hat every time you wear it. How cool is that?
The gele has a long cultural history both in Africa and amongst the people of the African diaspora, particularly African Americans. African women can tell at once where another African woman is from and who her people are from the cut of her gele. African American women and women of color in the Carribean and elsewhere have embraced the Gele with gusto. It is a beautiful feminine piece of headwear that is as much a cutural icon as personal fashion statement.