The Gouro have a highly developed artistic sense and must have been heavily influenced by the Baoule. They give great importance to hairstyling and hairdressers are held in the same high esteem as artists.
Gouro art is elegant and is comprised mainly of masks with elongated faces, a concave profile and almond shaped eyes.
Different types of masks can be identified depending on whether you find yourself in the west of Gouro country, or in the southern region which has been influenced by the neighbouring Bete people.
Gouro statues are not very common; they have slender bodies with short legs and over exaggerated calves. They measure between 20 and 80 cm in size.
The Gouro settled to the west of the Baoule on the Ivory Coast, in a region covered sometimes by wooded savannah or sometimes thick forest. The south of the country is less hostile due to its greater agricultural resources.
The Gouro have frequently moved about due to internal quarrels, wars between tribes (caused by adultery or the kidnapping of their women), or through wanting to improve their undesirable living conditions.
Gouro Social and Economic Life
In the villages, the Gouro cultivate rice, coffee that they produce to sell, cotton, chocolate, and depending on the year, yams. The men clear the fields, the women plant and have an important role at the markets. The Gouro are also weavers and make numerous weaving pulleys decorated by heads with characteristic incisions marking the sharp angled hairline.
The typical village is comprised of several lineages, its chief coming from the oldest lineage. He is aided in his mission by the chief of the council of elders representing each family, as well as various secret societies.
Diviners are frequently consulted to decide the dates for rituals to be carried out, or to tell the future. For this, they observe the movements of twigs or bones in wooden or clay boxes that contain a mouse.
The Zamlo association organizes festivities during which polychrome antelope masks perform.
The daily life of the Gouro is dominated by secret societies and their belief in protecting spirits called ‘zuzu’. Altars, containing diverse figures are built in their honour.
Gouro art is elegant and mainly composed of masks with elongated faces, a concave profile and almond shaped eyes.
Gouro art is based on duality, that of family cults on the one hand and on the other the secondary divinities called Yu. This term designates at the same time the ritual, the mask, an altar and a spirit that radiates over the objects used during the ceremonies.
The Gouro have a highly developed artistic sense and must have been heavily influenced by the Baoule. They give great importance to hairstyling and hairdressers are held in the same high esteem as artists. They have undoubtedly been influenced by the flourishing of Baoule wood carving.
Different types of mask are identifiable:
- In the western part of Gouro country, the masks have a pointed chin, a protruding mouth, bulging almond shaped eyes and a high forehead that is sometimes decorated with scarification marks. They serve to redirect evil spells towards another person and they are also worn by executioners.
- The style in the south is influenced by the neighbouring Bete people. The masks can be identified through their naturalistic features, scarification marks in the middle of the forehead, triangular nose and eyes that are framed by incised scarification marks. Sometimes they are called Bete-Gouro. Another kind of mask that can be seen in this region has a rounded forehead, a turned up nose, almond shaped eyes and a pointed chin.
Legend states that one day a hunter found a group of masks and remedies that allowed his village to communicate with genies from the bush world.
- The Gu (or Gou) mask represents the Baoule feminine ideal.
- The Dye mask represents a human face or an elephant or antelope’s head. It is worn at the funerals of important notaries and can only be looked at by men.
- The Gye mask represents a stylized antelope head and is worn during commemorative festivals.
- Zaouli is a mask in the form of an antelope with tubular eyes, a pair of horns and a mouth in the shape of a beak. This is the mask of an old man, Zamble’s husband.
- Zamble is at the same time a panther, a crocodile and an antelope. This mask is more sophisticated than Baoule masks and it can be recognized by a sharp angled hairline.
Gye and Dye cannot be seen by women.
Zamble, Gu and Zaouli masks appear during festivities and belong to families that are designated by the council of elders.
By offering sacrifices, men can triumph over the forces of nature. These masks are made to please or impress the spectator.
Gouro statues are not very common; they have slender bodies with short legs and over exaggerated calves. They measure between 20 and 80 cm in size. They appear during festivities worn on the head of a dancer, or are kept in houses and used for divinatory ends. They represent standing people, hands on hips, with long necks and heads that have the same form as the masks themselves.
Everyday Gouro Objects
Elegant weaver’s pulleys and spoons decorated with human representations or animal heads can also be found.