African art ( part 2): African art and craft seen with new eyes

•July 27, 2008 • 1 Comment

More and more people such as art galleries, collectors and even tourists visiting Africa tend to sell African art. However all these people tend to only look at African art with an aesthetic judgement and they forgot that the objects were not created for this purpose. Their creators wanted to create sacred objects useful for their communities. So the question is how can you sell and inform about African art and craft without omitting the main goal of the African artists?

It is important to know that African art went through different status over the last centuries. Of course, all the different status were always set by the Westerner people:

                                -XVth-XVIIIth century:  African art = curiosity

While the Portuguese are the first to arrive in Black Africa , they try to impose the christianity to African people and they burn any wood art created by the inhabitants for their rituals. However Portuguese have a growing interest for ivory and gold. So to sum up during this period, all the ritual and sacred objects are encountering a negative judgment from the Portuguese and the other objects ( objects made of ivory for instance) are judged using Westerner criteria and they are brought back to Europe to be shown in what is called “ curiosity” chambers. These special chambers were successful until the XVIIIth century. The main goals of these chambers are to entertain, fascinate and teach.

                                -XIXth century: From curiosity to scientific objects

At the end of the XIXth century, the westerner expeditions changed and scientists are now part of them. Slowly the “curiosity chambers” became museums. The objects placed in museums are now used for ethnographic specimen and they are the witnesses of civilization progress. During this period, the objects are only studies by ethnologists and never by art historians. In the last 25 years of the XIXth century, colonialism is fully part of the Westerner strategies and universal exhibitions show African objects and also humans. African people are brought back to Europe to be put in museums so that westerner people can see how it is to live in Africa.

                                -XXth century : From scientific objects to primitive arts

Primitive arts appeared since the middle of the XIXth century but at this period, the expression “ primitive arts” means that it was created by people in the first period of evolution. A lot of Westerner artists had an interest for African objects but they only look at them from an aesthetic point of view.

                                -Today : An art fully recognized but still not fully understood by a lot of persons

Since 1960, primitive art has a growing public. For instance the Branly museum opened in 2005.


The Baoulé ( Baoule) tribe

•July 10, 2008 • Leave a Comment

As mentioned previously, the Baoulé tribe is part of the bigger ethnic group called the Akan. The Baoulé live mainly in the middle of Cote d’Ivoire. The Baoulé population is estimated to be around 3 millions.

The Baoulé originally come from Ghana and they were lead to Cote d’Ivoire by Queen Abla Pokou. I wrote an earlier note in relation to Queen Abla Pokou. Their name come from the legend in relation to the Queen Abla Pokou and “baouli” means “ the child is dead”.

One of the former president of Cote d’Ivoire named Houphouët-Boigny was part of the Baoulé tribe.

The Baoulé as a lot of ethnic tribes in Ivory Coast have their own dance:

-Goly dance

– Adjemele dance

-Adjos dance

– Kotou dance

The Baoulé are famous sculptors, weaver and goldsmith.

The Baoulé believe in a creator God. Their God controls men and animals. Spirits have supernatural powers. The real world is the opposite of the spiritual world where souls  come from at birth and go back at death. Their belief is founded around the death and the immortality of the soul. The Baoule do ancestors workship but ancestors are not represented.

In the Baoule culture, sculptures and masks allows them to be in contact with the spiritual world. Baoule traditional masks are always wore by the men. Traditional masks corresponds to 3 types of dances/events


       Gba gba: originally from the Guro tribe, this mask is used for women funerals during the harvest seasons. It celebrates beauty.

       Bonu amuen: it protects the village from outside threats. It appears during the death of notable people.

       Goli: this mask has a rounded form and two horns. It celebrates peace and happiness.

In contrary to other ethnic groups, the sculptors skills are not passed over from father to son. It results from a personal choice.

You will see below some examples of Baoule masks:


Photobucket     Photobucket      Photobucket

Senufo group and the secret society: Poro

•June 29, 2008 • 1 Comment

The Senufo live in Mali, Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso, and Ghana. “Senufo” means “ the ones who speak Sene” . Senufo people were in the past farmers cultivating rice, corn,yams,etc.Their population is estimated to be around 600 000.

The Senoufo have a very interesting political system. It is a matrilineage society. They are four societies which educate and governs the Senufo: Poro, Sandogo, Wambele and Tyepka.We will mainly speak about the Poro society today.

The Poro society is reserved for men ( but it is good to know that apparently young girls and postmenopausal women are permitted to join) and it is a secret society. The main purpose of the Poro society is to guarantee a good relationship between the living world and the ancestors. They are responsible for the religious traditions, ceremonies and also for maintaining the order between the people.

When men are part of the Poro society, they have to go through 3 different phases of 7 years each. It generally starts when the boy are 7 years old and end when they are 28 years old. During the induction, the young men converse with each other using a secret language known only to other Poro members .

It is important to know that in the Senufo culture, when a man is born, it is only an animal and the Poro will help them to change their status.

The different phases can be broken down to:

          The “Kouord”: children are given special tasks and also learn special symbolic words.

          The “dain”: it teaches teenagers how to live in community .During this period, the teenagers are asked to make personal sacrifices. They are taught how to participate in rituals, how to prepare the ritual clothes,etc.

          The “Tcholo”: it helps in understanding the meaning of life. The elders will reveal some secrets that young men were not able to understand until this period. Young men will be taught about philosophy, social behaviours and a professional skill.

          The “Kaffono”: this gives the supreme knowledge and the final sacrament.

Once initiate, the men need to give an annual contribution. In exchange, they will receive support from the elders, they are also protected by the masters and after their death, their funerals are organized by the Poro members.

 All the initiatory ceremonies are happening in a sacred wood outside of the villages. This place is considered as the propriety of Katyéléo ( The Senufo goddess).

.The Senufo produce a rich variety of sculptures, mainly associated with the poro society. The sculptors
and metalsmiths, endogamous groups responsible for making the cult objects live on their own in a
separate part of the village.

Guro tribe and Guro traditional masks

•June 19, 2008 • Leave a Comment

The Guro tribe has an estimated population of 200 000. They live in the west of Cote d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast). They are surrounded by the Baoule ( on the east), the Bete (on the west) and the Malinke (on the north). They are part of the Mande group.They live near on the shores of the Banama ( one of the rive of Cote d’Ivoire). Their territory is made of savannas and dense forest. It helped them a lot to resist the horsemen conqueror from the north and also it protected them from military and political conflict until 1906. Between 1906 and 1912, the Guro tribe was forced to fled into the bush and abandoned their traditional villages to resist the French colonization.

It is said that the Guro people contrary to other tribes do not have a chief. They are governed and regulated by a concil of elders and each main family of the village has a representation on the council.

The daily life of the Guro is dominated by secret societies and by a belief in protective spirits called “Zuzu”.

The Guru are well known for their artistic sense. While carving their masks, the Guru often combine the human and animal forms. In addition, the masks are normally almond shaped eyes rounded forehead,

You can see below a picture of a Guro mask:





You can learn more about this mask and purchase other authentic masks if you visit:

Tribute to Senegalese tirailleurs ( Skirmisher – sharpshooter)

•June 15, 2008 • 1 Comment


Since the XVII century, French used African people to fight for them.
However it is in 1857 that the black troops have been officially created and named “ Senegalese tirailleurs”. “Tirailleur” means sharpshooter in French. It is a term used to designate the troops trained to  skirmish ahead of the columns. These troops are called “Senegalese tirailleurs” but you have to know that they were not only formed of Senegalese people. All together they gather 17 African nationalities such as soldiers from Sudan, Guinea, Tchad, Algeria,etc.

These troops not only help France in the various colonial campaigns but also during World War I and World War II. The Tirailleurs always fought with distinction and incurred heavy losses.

It happens that one of the mosque of Paris was constructed after World War I as a sign of gratefulness from France to the Muslims soldiers. In addition, some famous political leaders also recognized these brave troops in speeches. For instance, Marechal Foch said :

«J’ai admiré leur merveilleux courage, leur indomptable ténacité, leur élan fougueux. .. J’ai apprécié leur profonde loyauté et leur absolu dévouement».”

which means

«  I admired  their guts and bravery,indomitable  single-mindedness, spirited momentum, I appreciated their loyalty and their full devotion.”

Most of  the Tirailleur troops have been disbanded during the independence of African countries between 1956 and 1962. These former soldiers have always been discriminated despite their loyalty  compare to the French soldiers. It is only in 2006, after 60 years that Jacques Chirac finally decided to increase the pensions of former colonial soldiers.

I advise you to watch the movie “Indigènes” or “ Days of Glory” ( English title) directed by French-Algerian Rachid Bouchareb.

Finally, you can purchase an authentic statue of a Senegalese Tirailleur made during the colonial period if you click the link below:

African art (part 1)

•June 10, 2008 • Leave a Comment

sponsored by

African art exists since prehistoric times. The discovery of African art (by European people) started in the XV century when the Portuguese navigators travelled into Africa. The navigators wanted to convert African people to Christianity and at this time, they considered African art as fetish. Therefore a lot of African art has disappeared during this period.

Then, during the colonialism period, as the European colonizer considered African population as being a primitive population, therefore they did not show any interest for African art.

It is only in the XX century that African art is really started to be appreciated from European population. For instance, in 1905, Maurice de Vlamnick ( a French painter) bought a pair of statues in a bar and then, Picasso, Matisse and other famous painters started to collect African art. It greatly impacted some of their masterpieces.

It is also important to mention that in many occasion art production is related to ritual or tribal ceremonies.For instance a mask carver creating a traditional mask can be considered as an artist but the mask is not created for decorative purpose. It is created for a ceremony or a ritual. In Africa, most of the time, the art created is not owned by the artist but it is the expression of an ethnic group, people,divinity using the craftman skills. African art reflects the history, philosophy, religion,myths, belief, culture of the vast continent.

 You can discover some great and unique African art by visiting:



African masks and the mask carvers

•June 2, 2008 • Leave a Comment

In a previous post, I quickly talked about the mask carvers:

Carving a mask is a very sophisticated and complicated art. In many part of Africa, the apprentice will have to work between 3 to 7 years with the master carver in order to fully learn how to create a mask. This art is actually very often transferred from father through son through several generations.

As mentioned previously, this art is very often transferred from father through son. You have to know that mask carvers are exclusively male. I recently learnt that the carving of a ritual mask is normally done in seclusion and his preceded by a long prepration that includes fasting,abstention from sexual activity,and other purification rites.

The mask carvers is a very respected artisan. They often make their own tools. The mask created by the mask carvers are not owned by them, neither they are owned by the wearer. They are owned by the community or secret society and they are kept in a special place.

The protection of the masks is not the responsability of the mask carver. This responsability of great importance and honor is often given to a women. She is the only one allowed to see them when they are not in use.

You can see and purchase traditional African masks from the Dan ethnic tribe for instance if you go to: