Baule Mblo Portrait Mask
Baule 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.
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. 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 jojoyous 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.