A nice example of a Bete Gre mask in very good condition, just minor losses and age cracks, see photo. No restorations or repairs. Unusual 'quiet" suttle expression. Decorated with metal tacks. Probably circa 1980. Approximately 13" tall.
The Côte d'Ivoire is the home to the Bete -- they live in the southwestern part of the country, between the Akan ethnic groups to the east and the Guro tribe to the north. They number about 600,000 and are an agricultural group. Patrilinear, the Bete live – under the ancestors’ authority – in small “headless” villages. Historically they were hunters, but nowadays they also farm. They grow what is needed for a subsistence economy. They also have linked to the market economy and much of their effort is devoted to the cultivation of cacao and coffee.
Religion, omnipresent in Bete life, aims to maintain a harmonious relationship between nature and the ancestors who are responsible for the welfare of the tribe. Today the vast majority still follow their traditional African religion, believing in a creator God Lago, but do not pray to or worship him. Instead they seek help from many lesser spirits supposed to have supernatural power to help them, or give protection--spirits of their ancestors, spirits that inhabit trees, rivers, rocks, etc. They observe many customs and taboos and make sacrifices of eggs, chickens, cows, etc. Each ritual focuses on the maintenance and care of good relations with the world of ancestors, so as to assure the protection of the lineages. The religious cults give rise to numerous mask performances, during the course of which the music assumes fundamental importance. The apprenticeship of male youngsters particularly concentrates on the mastery of these arts. In fact, within a village context the men form into veritable dance societies, membership in which 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 were used to envoke the "Gre"; the forces of nature that were terror in its purest form. Nowadays, it is worn for a variety of ceremonies, including entertainment dances.
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