Bete - Guerre-Wobe masks
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.

Sources: A History of Art in Africa / Africa - The Art of a Continent
Old picture of a Bete mask and accoutrement. (unknown source)
Bete mask from a museum collection. (unknown source)
WE (KRAN, GERE, GUERRE-WOBE, GWERE, NGERE-WOBO, WEE)

Côte d'Ivoire and Liberia

Modern ethnology puts the Wobe and Guere together under the name We, despite the fact that the people
themselves use the old names. The We population is estimated at 100,000. Rice, yams, taro, manioc, maize, and
bananas are the primary crops grown. Farming and hunting have been largely replaced by laboring in the
diamond camps or working at the rubber plantations. Confederations govern both ethnic groups -- the largest is
the warrior confederation which is led by a military chief, who also acts as a civil authority. The family units also
play an important role in We social life.

The art of Guere and Wobe people is stylistically connected and both groups are often collectively referred to as
We, meaning "men who easily forgive." Like the Dan, the We use a wide variety of masquerades, which hold
important regulatory position within their small, egalitarian communities. Masks are owned by families and used
by individual lineage members in contexts of social control, boy’s circumcision camps, and entertainment. Most
We masks were created to frighten with the gaping jaws and tubular eyes. The style of these forest living people
differ from the sophisticated, gentle and often refined art of the neighboring savanna-dwellers. We people
produce a variety of masks often characterized by enlarged triangular nose, an open mouth and tubular eyes.
We statues are rare.
BETE

Côte d'Ivoire

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 is indispensable.

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.

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.