BAULE PEOPLE: THE ARTISTIC AKAN TRIBE IN IVORY COAST
The Baule (Baoule or Bawule) people is one of the largest ethnic group in the Côte d'Ivoire. They have played a central role in twentieth-century history of the country. They waged the longest war of resistance to French colonization of any West African people, and maintained their traditional objects and beliefs longer than many groups in such constant contact with European administrators, traders, and missionaries.
Baule women of Ivory Coast
The Baule belong to the Akan peoples who inhabit Ghana and Côte d'Ivoire. According to a legend, during the eighteenth century, the queen, Abla Poku and her factions after having a serious disagreement with their Ashanti king had to lead her people west to the shores of the Comoe, the land of Senufo. In order to cross the river, she sacrificed her own son. This sacrifice was the origin of the name Baule, for baouli means “the child has died.”
An artistic impression of the Legend of Queen Abla Pokou
They displaced and intermarried with the Senufu of the north and Guru people of the west. They came to dominate southern Ivory Coast. Poku died in 1760 and was burried in her capital, the town of Warebo, close to Bouake. Queen Akwa Boni, niece of Poku, inherited the throne. Her people became known as the Baoule and took over the gold mines west of the Bandama River. At the death of Queen Akwa, the kingdom plunged into dynastic disputes among the major family heads. The kingdom never achieved great unity, as the Empire of Asante. It was conquered by the French in the latter half of the 1800s.
Now about one million Baule occupy a part of the eastern Côte d'Ivoire between the Komoé and Bandama rivers that is both forest and savanna land. Baule society was characterized by extreme individualism, great tolerance, a deep aversion toward rigid political structures, and a lack of age classes, initiation, circumcision, priests, secret societies, or associations with hierarchical levels. Each village was independent from the others and made its own decisions under the presiding presence of a council of elders. Everyone participated in discussions, including slaves. It was an egalitarian society. The Baule compact villages are divided into wards, or quarters, and subdivided into family compounds of rectangular dwellings arranged around a courtyard; the compounds are usually aligned on either side of the main village street.
The Baule are agriculturists; yams and maize are the staples, supplemented by fish and game; coffee, cocoa and kola nuts are major cash crops. The importance of the yam is demonstrated in an annual harvest festival in which the first yam is symbolically offered to the ancestors, whose worship is a prominent aspect of Baule religion.
Baule masked dancers of the Goli society, Kondeyaokro village, Côte d’Ivoire. Photograph by Eliot Elisofon, 1972
Ancestors are the object of worship but are not depicted. The foundation of Baule social and political institutions is the matrilineal lineage; each lineage has ceremonial stools that embody ancestral spirits. Paternal descent is recognized, however, and certain spiritual and personal qualities are believed to be inherited through it. The Baule believe in an intangible and inaccessible creator god, Nyamien. Asie, the god of the earth, controls humans and animals. The spirits, or amuen, are endowed with supernatural powers. Religion is founded upon the idea of the immortality of the soul.
An apprentice of the traditional Bosson religion uses her healing powers to cure a young child during the Ahouwe ritual purification dance in Aniassue on the eastern Ivory Coast July 15, 2007. Ahouwe is a ritual dance in Ivory Coast's eastern Akan area and in Ghana, during which followers become possessed by genies who instruct them on the preparation of natural cures. The women who practice the Bosson religion are known as Komians, spiritual mediums that possess healing powers. REUTERS/ Luc Gnago
Like several other groups with Akan origin, Baoulé children are often named according to the day of the week or the circumstances under which they were born. For example, a male born on a Monday would be named Kouassi. However, there are slight variations in the spelling and pronunciation specific to the Baoulé. It should also be noted that the Baoulé have a calendar that is different from the Akan calendar of other Akan subgroups.
Baule Warriors of Ivory Coast (Cote d`Ivoire)
This may be due to the circumstances of their departure from Akanland and the need for them to mark a separation with the Ashanti Kingdom. For Akan subgroups such as the Ashanti, Abron, N'zima, Koffi may be a name for a boy child born on Friday. For the Baoulé, Koffi and Affoué are names for Saturday, the day being Foué. There is, therefore, a sound common to the day and the names.
Loza Maléombho (Brazilian-Ivorian designer) in a pose with Baule elders
|Djole (Monday)||Kouadjo, Adjoua||The name of the day is Djole|
|Mlan(Tuesday)||Konan, Amlan||The name of the day is Mlan|
|Ouwe (Wednesday)||Kouakou, Ahou||The name of the day is Ouwe|
|Yah (Thursday)||Yao, Aya||The name of the day is Yah|
|Foue (Friday)||Koffi, Affoué||The name of the day is Foue|
|Monnin (Saturday)||Kouame, Amoin||The name of the day is Monnin|
|Kissie(Sunday)||Kouassi,Akissi||The name of the day is Kissie|
Baule art is sophisticated and stylistically diverse. Non-inherited, the sculptor’s profession is the result of a personal choice. The Baule have types of sculpture that none of the other Akan peoples possess. Wooden sculptures and masks allow a closer contact with the supernatural world.
Baule motherwood statue
Baule statues are usually standing on a base with legs slightly bent, with their hands resting on their abdomen in a gesture of peace, and their elongated necks supporting a face with typically raised scarification and bulging eyes. The coiffure is always very detailed and is usually divided into plaits. Baule figures answer to two types of devotion: one depicts the “spiritual” spouse who, in order to be appeased, requires the creation of a shrine in the personal hut of the individual. A man will own his spouse, the blolo bian, and a woman her spouse, the blolo bla.
Male Baule tribe figure seated on an Akan type chair wearing an elaborate hat. One hand on the knee, the other with the palm above. This type of Baule statues is often called asie usu representing a spirit of the Forest reincarnated in a beautiful male figure in this case probably a village chief.
The Baule believe that before they were born into the world they existed in a spirit world, where each one had a mate. Sometimes that spirit mate becomes jealous of their earthly mate and causes marital discord. When this happens, a figure depicting the other world spouse is carved and placated with earthly signs of attention.
Gyaman Adekye (chiefs) from Baule tribe of Ivory Coast
Baule Gyaman girls in exquisite gold jewelry with horsetail switches
Sources differ on its role or function: some say it intervenes in the ritual of divination, others that it is a protection against sorcerers, or a protective divinity of agrarian rites, or a bush spirit. The figures and human masks are elegant -- well polished, with elaborate hairdressings and scarification.
Blolo Bla Female Figure, Baule Culture (wood)
Masks correspond to several types of dances: the gba gba, the bonu amuen, the mblo and the goli. They never represent the ancestors and are always worn by men. The gba gba is used at the funerals of women during the harvest season. It celebrates beauty and age, hence its refined features. The double mask represents the marriage of the sun and the moon or twins, whose birth is always a good sign. The bonu amuen protects the village from external threats; it obliges the woman to a certain discipline; and it appears at the commemorations of death of notables. When they intervene in the life of the community, they take the shape of a wooden helmet that represents a buffalo or antelope and which is worn with a raffia costume and metal ankle bracelets; the muzzle has teeth, which incarnate the fierce animal that is to defend the group.
There is also a Kple Kple mask from the Baoule community in Ivory Coast.The face refers to the sun, and the sunbeams are represented by polychromed triangles.This type of mask is usually used in commemorative, agricultural and burial ceremonies. The mask would generally be worn with a raffia (grass) costume attached to the lower section of the mask reaching to below the waist with a grass skirt and other grasses covering the body and legs.
Kple Kple mask (Ivory Coast)
Mblo is the name of a performance category that uses face masks in skits and solo dances. Mblo masks, used in entertainment dances are one of the oldest of Baule art forms. These refined human face masks are usually portraits of particular known individuals. Mblo masks embody the core Baule sculpture style manifested in figures and decorated objects – spoons, combs, pulleys and the like.
Mblo Twin Mask. Côte d'Ivoire; Baule people
Lustrous curving surfaces, suggesting clean, healthy, well-fed skin, are set off by delicately textured zones representing coiffures, scarifications, and other ornaments. The idealized faces are introspective, with the high foreheads and the large downcast eyes. Ornaments above the face – birds, combs, horns, faces, and other decorative motifs – are chosen for their beauty, and have no iconographic significance. Fine scarifications and coiffures denote personal beauty, refinement and a desire to give pleasure to others.
Goli is the day-long spectacle that normally involves the whole village and includes the appearance of four pairs of masks, music played on special instruments, and, ideally, the joyous consumption of a great deal of palm wine. Goli can be performed both as an entertainment and for the funeral of important men. The very characteristic, round-shaped “lunar” goli is surmounted by two horns. It was borrowed from the Wan for a celebration adopted by the Baule after 1900.
Celebrating peace and joy, they would sing, dance, and drink palm wine. In the procession, the goli preceded the four groups of dancers, representing young adolescents. The goli would be used on the occasion of the new harvest, the visit of dignitaries, or at the funerals of notables. Boxes for the mouse oracle (in which sticks are disturbed by a live mouse, to give the augury) are unique to the Baule, whose carvers also produce heddle pulleys, combs, hairpins, and gong mallets.
Baule Guro arts
Baules are also very sociable like their Ghanaian Akan brethrens. They welcome all blacks from the diaspora into their country without slightest mistrust. As a result black celebrities like the late king of Pop music Michael Jackson and rapper cum movie star LL Cool J have all been welcomed there and were installed as chiefs.
The pop music king Michael Jackson crowned king in Abidjan (Ivory Coast), 1992
Ladies Love Cool J (LL COOL J) C\crownd as a chief in Abidjan in November of 1988,
After a concert in the city of Abidjan Ivory Coast, the twenty-year-old LL Cool J travelled to the coastal village of Grand-Bassam where the local folks anointed his head with oil and dubbed him Chief Kwasi Achi-Bru. Upon his return to America, Chief Kwasi recorded “Def Jam In The Motherland.”
Baule Bronze Mask - DA.462
Origin: Baule- Ivory Coast- Africa
Circa: 1800 AD to 1900 AD
Baule portrait mask details the physical facial features namely eyes, eyebrows, nose, mouth and eyes. In addition, the coiffure, beard, and facial scarification compliment the physical beauty. The scars found around the eyes and mouth indicates human scarification during rites of passage into adulthood. The beard Indicates that the person is an elder, someone who has created a family, lived a full life and one who deserves respect that comes with age and wisdom.This lost wax cast of a copper alloy mask (bronze or brass) comes from the Baule people of the Ivory Coast in West Africa. Though masks are not normally used by the greater number of Akan peoples including the Asante or Fante, they are often found attached to various chiefly regalia prominent on sword sheaths or chiefly stools. They are said to represent the heads of defeated enemies and are shown with some evidence of local scarification which is rare among the Akan but often shown on terracotta sculptures. - (DA.462)
Hair comb. Baule peoples, Ivory Coast | Early to mid 20th century | Wood, gold leaf and thread
Baule chiefs, Bebakoi,Cote d`Ivoire