The Baule are an ancient race. Although recent tradition has it that they are cousins of the Asante (whose institutions they have adopted) they are probably related to proto-Guros (Mamla), with whom they have a greater stylistic affinity. Both Baule (the largest ethnic group) and Guro live in Central Cote d'Ivoire, separated by Lake Kossu and the Bandama River. Baule on the left bank, Guro on the right bank of the river and the lake. Living in such close proximity it is more than likely that there has been considerable cultural cross-fertilization.
Baule effigies are not 'ancestor' figures but sculptural portraits of spirits, e.g. a spirit husband (see Susan M.Vogel African Art / Western Eyes, 1997). There are two major kinds: 1) the nature spirit "asie usu" that has to be appeased frequently. The more beautiful its effigy the more propitiated the spirit. 2) male & female spirits "blolo bian & blolo bla", spouses from the other world who receive the same reverence. Baule call their effigies "waka sona", which means 'wooden people', which are always made from hard wood.
Re:Yale Archive of African Art
The heddle pulley on the left has been cautiously assessed by the Yale Guy Van Rijn Archive of African Art (No.0032724) as Guro/Baule. It is shown here for comparison purposes only (the Lemaire/GvR archive, Amsterdam holds the Copyright), because the similarity between the heddle pulley and the above figure is astounding. This particular heddle pulley is thought to be a typical example of cultural cross-fertilization. Overall the head (as well as the neck-stirrup combination) has predominantly Baule features like the closely notched hair line. On the other hand, the scarifications (keloids) can be Guro as well as Baule, although those on the forehead tend to be more Baule. However, the mouth is clearly Guro and resembles the mouth that sculptures from the northern Guro region of Yasua are given, i.e. a V-shaped mouth with a narrow upper lip and a protruding lower lip . In other words, the figure shows features from the carving traditions of both neighbouring tribes. This does, however, make the determination of authenticity difficult.
The standing figure was acquired at a Sotheby's auction in London in 1984 (lot 159) and appears to have come from a Danish collection.
In view of the similarities between the heddle pulley and the figurine it seems safe enough to suggest (superficially at least) that the heddle pulley and the figure come from the same workshop, possibly even from the same hand. In other words, we have here a western Baule carving tradition which, in the vicinity of important centres of wood carving in northern Guro country , has adopted some of their neighbour's carving styles.