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The Bete are a little-studied Ivory Coast group with strong cultural and artistic links to the Dan, the We (Gwere) and the Guro, among others. There are 93 distinct groups within the Bete polity. They are united only in that they subsistence farm to survive, but base most of their social and cultural lives around the hunt. Social control was exercised by the leading member of individual lineages (of which there were several in each village) who exercised judicial and financial power within the community. Spiritual authority was wielded with an array of paraphernalia, notably including the “gre” mask, a horned and decorated creation (originating with the We) designed to instill terror in the onlooker, to quell social unrest, and to be worn when meting out justice after conflict.
Statuary is uncommon, and is based around feminine iconography that refers to the mythical mother figure. There is no recognised liturgical function, although some early reports indicate that a pair of figures was often placed under a rain shelter in a village in order to represent the founders. This evocation of a primeval couple has widespread resonance in African culture. Rare figures with exaggerated genitalia are probably linked to a magico-religious appeal for fertility; alternatively, they may have constituted a more general role, evoking or celebrating the fertility of the village/land, its founders, or the forest from which the people made their living.
It is known as one of the most progressive tribes due to the focus on individual rights. A "chief" is chosen by the people based on who is the wisest. This leader stays in power until his death or any wrongdoing. Then another chief is chosen based on wisdom.
Men and women play equal roles in society as well. Bete women are widely known as the most outspoken of any other tribes.
As far as courtship, the men of the Bete tribe travel outside of the village to date. Dating within the tribe is not allowed because of the belief that the village is a family unit. Ethnically diverse marriages are strongly encouraged.Before dating begins men ask about the woman's family to make sure there is no trace of any relation.Marriage is not possible if the couple is related in any way. The men do not leave the village when marriage. Rather, the wife is brought into the man's tribe. This is because the man is expected to provide a home and land. He has already inherited land from his father,so the women must travel to outside of their villages for financial security. The wedding is discussed only among the bride and groom. It is meant to be a surprise for the parents, particularly the woman's parents. The date of the wedding is set and the wife's family is invited to the groom's village to celebrate. The woman's family then visits to make sure the woman is marrying of her own free will. This is a polite formality. When she has said that she is sure of her decision then congratulations is acceptable. The wedding ceremony takes one week. Each day is a celebration of the bride and she is treated like a queen.
Polygamy is a common practice. Men usually have no more than three wives. When a man decides to have another wife, the first wife often becomes a sort of mother to her. The original wife may choose to be head of all other wives. This is a common practice but not an obligation. Any wife may choose to leave their husbands' if he decides to marry another woman. Often, the original wife will make the second wife feel unwelcome in order to make her leave instead. In some cases the wives will get along and become friends.
Divorce is also very common. A wife can decide to leave her husband and go back to her home village whenever she chooses and is not obligated to give her husband any notice or explanation. The husband in turn can choose to kick his wife out of his home. Counseling among friends is very common in marital disputes.
Because of education, these traditions are usually only practiced by people still living in the villages. When the children move to cities and go to universities they usually adopt Western traditions of marriage.
- Bacquart, J. 1998/2000. The Tribal Arts of Africa. Thames and Hudson.