Masque double aux jumeaux

Double Twin Mask

The Baule people of central Côte d’Ivoire have several sets of masks, which they use notably in two
antithetic forms of worship (apart from the goli, borrowed from their neighbours, the Wan). In the
first, the most sacred and playing an essential role in nocturnal conjuration rituals, the effigies used are strictly forbidden for women, African or Western,
to see. [1] In the second, masks are used during
diurnal ceremonies open to all and called,
depending on the region, ajemble, adyemele,
adjusu, bedwo, jela, flali or, further south, mblo,
ngblo, gbagba, etc. These ceremonies, held for
entertainment and pleasure, are devoid of taboos.
Women are allowed to see (but not wear) these
masks, which are often seven in number. The first
symbolise animals, then come humans and finally
the portrait masks (ndoma), one of which is
sometimes a double mask with two faces side by
side, worn by a single dancer and portraying twins
(nda). Paradoxically, although this effigy is familiar
to Baule artists, it only rarely appears in ceremonies.

Like many African peoples, the Baule consider twins
to have beneficial powers. [3]
The faces are not identical.
Although their planar construction is isomorphic,
and the ngole marks at the corners of the eyes
and at the top of the nose are similar, they have different
striations and hairstyles.

But above all, the right face is black and the left
face is red (the red is only visible in the cracks in a
dark coating applied a posteriori). For the Baule,
these two colours signify male and female. The
double mask, an image of simultaneous birth, symbolises
the unity of a balanced duality and the
power of beneficial duplication.

Editor’s note:
This mask was acquired by Henri Kamer from Roger Bédiat, a
West Indian dealer settled in Côte d’Ivoire, in 1955. He displayed
it in Besançon in 1958 but despite many offers he refused to
dispose of it. It was not until 1978 that, due to financial problems,
he finally agreed to sell the mask which entered the
Geneva collection.

[1See Boyer 1993a.

[2When I was living at Tounzuebo, near Beoumi, from 1974 to
1976, I asked a sculptor to make one for me, after a model (formerly
in the Bédiat collection), which I greatly admired. The
sculptor executed it in eight days and, far from being a masterpiece,
it was relegated to an attic. But what bedazzlement
when, years later, I came across the same mask, in the Musée
Barbier-Mueller, reproduced in Jean Laude’s book – the very
work reproduced here – and I was at last able to touch it.

[3See Alain-Michel Boyer, ‘Le double et la gémellité’ and ‘Un
rêve d’androgynie?’, in Boyer 2007a, pp. 191–201.