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Baule Tribal Art - Sculpture and Mask History.

Characteristics of Baule masks: There are two forms of masks namely animal and human and or both. It is not uncommon for human masks to have an animal attribute, or a human figure as a crest. Masks are crafted and used only by men to make contact with Gu, ruler of the world. The holes on the sides of the help attach the mask to the face of the wearer. Baule masks are all unique, however, all have similar qualities.

Baule carvers are most concerned with depicting accurate human and or animal features in their sculptures. Through apprenticeship, the young man learns the proper aesthetics of Baule sculpture, which include:

  • Smooth patina
  • Balanced proportion
  • Clear lines
  • Well rounded and slight asymmetry.

Namely: Arched eyebrows and eyes nearly closed, these features of Baule are critical for it is by looking at the gaze of the mask that one can perceive it as someone with a presence. As is the case with the sayings,

  • "his eyes are wide open"
  • "his eyes have finally opened".
  • The open eyes signals consciousness.

 In African culture when a youth or subordinate appear in front of an elder, king or wise man, he/she will initially look downward to show respect.

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.

The attributes above allow us to distinguish to some degree baule masks from other African masks, which may have adopted similar styles. Baule people create art in various media, including wooden sculpture, gold and brass casting similar to the neighboring Asante. Mask and figure carving have also been greatly influenced by the Senufo and Guro tribes.

Religion includes both ancestor worship and hierarchy of nature gods. Nature spirits and spirit spouses are often represented in sculpture. The creator god is Alouroua, who is never physically represented.

The Baule has a highly centralized government with a king or chief at the top who inherits his position along matrilineal lines. There are various sub chiefs in charge of his local populations, and all the chiefs rely on political advisors who help in the decision making process. The Goli association is the primary mask association, which provides social order among the Baule.

The Baule belong to the Akan peoples that inhabit Ghana and Côte d'Ivoire. Three hundred years ago the Baule people migrated westward from Ghana when the Asante rose to power.

The Baule grow yams and some maize as primary crops. They are also exporters of cocoa and kola nuts, which are grown on local plantations using large numbers of exploited migrant laborers, most from Burkina Faso. Many locally grown crops were introduced from the Americas during the Atlantic slave trade. These include maize, manioc, peppers, peanuts, tomatoes, squash, and sweet potatoes. They also raise farm animals including sheep, goats, chickens, and dogs. Markets, which are primarily run by women, take place every four days and are the center of the local economy. Local produce and craft items are sold alongside imported goods from all over the world.

Baule Mask Catalogue