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Baule Figure

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RTCFA No. AF 0025
Baule Figure
Artist: Unknown
Wood, 16.75 x 3.5 x 4 in. (42.5 x 8.9 x 10.1 cm).

Region: West Africa
Group / Tribe: Baule

Description: The Baule live in what is today the Ivory Coast. They long resisted French colonization, retaining much of their traditional culture, individualistic society, and religious and associated art practices. There are an estimated one million Baule. Baule art is sophisticated and stylistically diverse. Unique in African art, Baule art is non-inherited, the sculptor's profession being the result of a personal choice. Baule statues are usually standing on a base with legs slightly bent 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. This carved figure is believed to represent a "spirit spouse." The Baule believe that before they are born into this world they exist in a spirit world, where each person has a mate. Sometimes that spirit mate becomes jealous of their earthly mate and causes marital discord. When this happens, a figure depicting that spirit spouse is carved and placated with earthly signs of attention. Our understanding of these figures is limited because they are rarely taken out of the private shrines they inhabit within the home, and, are never officially recognized by their owner. They are often credited with influencing a person's life, either for good or bad, and may even prevent a person from finding an earthly spouse in this life if it is revealed that his or her spirit spouse is particularly active and jealous.