Geles: Crowning Glories of West Africa

By Chanelle Bell In the Black Christian culture African American women adorn their heads with beautiful hats while attending church, a tradition that can be traced to Bible verse 1 Corinthians 11:15, in which Paul the Apostle states that all women should cover their heads during worship. Twenty-first  Century women have put their own particular flare on  church hats, which come in a marvelous variety of shapes, sizes, colors and styles. Much like the coveted church hat, “geles” are  the beautifully crafted headpieces that African women wear. The word gele is a Nigerian term that refers to brightly colored and patterned head wraps that Western African women proudly wear. Geles should not to be confused with an ordinary headscarf that is worn to bed in order to preserve a hairstyle. They are a fashion statement and come in many intricate designs and various colors. They are a symbol of beauty and strength. Unlike church hats,  geles are not connected to places of worship. Geles can be seen gracing the heads of Nigerian women at special events and for everyday fashion. There is a gele for every occasion. They are typically worn with a buba, which is a long sleeved blouse, an iro or skirt, or a one-piece dress known as a kaba. Geles can be cut from the same patterned fabric as the buba,  iro or kaba in order to create a matching assemble. Or it can be cut from a completely different patterned fabric for a more dramatic look. Pastor Ebi Thourn of Redeemed Christian Church of God (Redemption Haven Parish, Oakland) notes the importance of keeping African culture and traditions alive. “We encourage people to dress traditionally on the first Sunday of every month in order to preserve our culture, not just from Nigeria but from many African cultures,”  he said. Pastor Ebi was born and raised in Nigeria and moved to the United States in 2001. He never forgot where he came from and encourages everyone in his church to educate their children about the customs of their homeland. “We have to keep our traditions alive. When our women wear their geles, they are showing the beauty of Africa.” The Redeemed Christian Church of God (Redemption Haven Parish, Oakland) is located at 6643 Bancroft Ave., Oakland. For more information visit
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