Bete Nyabwa Mask

  • Tribe: Bete
  • Origin: Ivory Coast / Liberia
  • Approx Age: Mid 20th Century
  • Materials: Wood, brass, hide, material
  • Dimensions cm: 30 long x 21 wide including adornent
  • Ref. Number: 0796

A stunning and old Bete Nyabwa mask from an ex UK private collection. Exaggerated features around the forehead and cheeks which are decorated with brass studs, the middle of the forehead is a large tooth , held in with nails. Above the top lip is  animal hair, fixed in place as a moustache. Under the chin is a lovely crisp sounding bell, along with a pouch, pouches like this are usually filled with potions / medicines to empower the mask / figure. The top of the mask has another pouch on top of a very soiled and now shiny piece of material, originally it was a blue and white striped piece. The outer edge of the mask comprises of a now very hard leather / skin padded decoration, it has hardened over years. Overall the face is a nice dark brown shiny patina, a really lovely piece.

Bete carvers are renowned for one particular type of face mask, the gre or nyabwa , which has exaggerated, grimacing distorted features – a large protruding mouth, facial protuberances, bulging forehead, elongated nose, with nostrils sometimes extending to each side of the face, and globular or bulging slit eyes set beneath a high-domed forehead carved with a medium ridge. In earlier days, this mask presided over the ceremony held when peace was restored after armed conflicts and it participated in sessions of customary justice. This type of mask was also worn to prepare men for war; the masks offered magical protection by instilling fear and terror in potential enemies. Nowadays, it is worn for a variety of ceremonies, including entertainment dances.

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The Bete people also known as Magwe, Tsien, Bokya and Kpwe; are ancient hunting, patriarchal, hard-working agricultural and culturally unique ethnic group that forms a subset of the larger Kru-speaking people residing in Côte d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast) and Liberia. Bete people lives precisely in the southwestern and southern-central parts of Côte d’Ivoire, between the Akan ethnic groups to the east and the Guro tribe to the north. They occupy towns and villages in the regions of Saloa, Soubre and Gagnoa.

Image result for Bete dancers

The Bete have carved elegant statues, stylistically influenced by their neighbors the Guro. Bete statues were usually carved as standing figures displaying set-apart legs, an elongated torso with square shoulders, an elongated columnar neck supporting an oblong head with a pointed chin, an incised mouth and a high-domed, smooth forehead under a helmet-like coiffure. Bete figures exhibit hand positions, which are difficult to interpret, as well as touches of white pigment. Male and female figures are displayed in shelters or shrines to represent the founders of the community. They incarnate the conceptual ideal of spiritual perfection and moral strength and its connection to physical beauty. Other smaller statuettes may have been carved to represent spouses from the other world, a tradition inspired by the Baule.