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Artist Unknown
(Africa, Ivory Coast, Baule)
Baule Mask
20th c.
carved wood, brown-black stain, 16 1/4" high
Gift of Mr. William Brill

The Baule people have lived as a cohesive group in the Republic of Ivory Coast in west Africa since the early 1700s. Their name derives from bawuli, meaning “the child is dead,” and comes from an ancient legend in which the Queen Mother Auro Pokour sacrificed her daughter in order to help refugees ford a river when they moved from Kumasi, two-hundred miles to the east in Ashanti country. The Baule believe in two worlds, one on earth and a parallel spirit world. In their world view, the spirit world is the “real” one, to which the individual returns after death.

Baule masks of the type featured here, called ndoma, or portrait masks, are characterized by their stylized carving, smoothly polished finish, elaborate hair styles, quiet expression, and the presence of scarification on the face. They portray particular individuals who could be recognized by their hair style and patterns of scarification. An individual might commission his or her own portrait mask, request that one be made of a friend or an admired person, or a carver might decide on his own to make a portrait mask of a specific person. In any case, before a mask was carved, the permission of the subject had to be obtained.
The Ndoma portrait mask is always the counterpart to a living person, and if the individual portrayed in a mask died, the mask was given the name of a relative. Worn with cloth surrounding the face of dancers, ndoma masks were used in dances generally performed for entertainment and at funerals, known as gba gba. In the highly ordered spiritual world view of Baule society, gba gba dances and rituals were the balancing counterpart to those known as amuen, which were performed with fierce-looking masks expressing masculinity, the forest life of the Ivory Coast, and the essential dichotomies of bush/village, male/female and earthly life/spirit world.



Museum Location

Tweed Museum of Art

University of Minnesota Duluth Campus

1201 Ordean Court

Duluth, MN 55812-2496

Info: 218-726-8222 or 218-726-6552

store: 218-726-6139



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