Baule Female Figure

A Baule person would have recognized this figure as a waka sran, a “person in wood.” 

Baule Waka Sran

Tribe: Baule

Origin: Bouake region of Ivory Coast

Approx Age: Later 20th Century

Materials: Wood

Dimensions cm: 47 tall

Ref. Number: 1625


A very detailed Baule female figure with a lovely dark brown patina. A six bunned coiffure, eyes with an astute glare under arched eyebrows. A large array of scarifications to the forehead, centre of the eyebrows, temple, side and rear of the neck, chest and breasts, abdomen, ribs, lower stomach, back and hips. Standing with shoulders back, hands held on the stomach with detailed carved feet on a round base.

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For the Baule, every successful sculpted figure necessarily conveys a sense of individuality, as in the approbation “o fa sran!”–“it resembles a person!” Whether carved to represent one’s otherworld mate–the “otherworld woman” (blolo bla) of a man, or the “otherworld man” (blolo bian) of a woman–or a bush-spirit familiar, the sculpted Baule figure is a stand-in interlocutor for an unseen spirit. A Baule man probably commissioned this female figure as a portrayal of his otherworld woman, following the instructions of a diviner and his revelation that the particular problem the man faced stemmed from the jealousy of his neglected mate in the otherworld. To picture her identity and also to ultimately please her, the sculptor set out to carve a person of beauty as perceived by Baule notions of attractiveness. She is depicted with serenity and composure: her flexed legs, her hands at rest on her abdomen, her wide-eyed gaze–all impart a sense of a person who is still, quiet and potentially responsive. Her beauty is revealed in her ample calves, her rounded buttocks, the slight swelling curve of her abdomen, the fullness and potential of her pelvic circle, her high breasts, her long elegant neck, and the symmetry and perfection of her facial features. Beauty, for the Baule, is also seen in the depiction of scarification–the raised keloids which give the body a culturally imposed, tactile texture that speaks to her individuality while also evoking that somewhere-in-between status of youthfulness when, free from childhood yet not constrained with the responsibilities of adult status, one explores and enjoys physical maturity. This figure also bears witness to its former owner. It was he who added the hip beads which would have supported a miniature loincloth. He adorned her with beaded anklets and a necklace embellished with two gold jewels and a piece of precious coral. Her lustrous surface is due to the frequency with which he held her and addressed her on the mornings after the nights set apart for the dream visits from his otherworld mate. The figure personify his waking dreams and made possible his daytime fantasy.

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