The Baoulé (or Baule, pron. [ba.u.le] in French, [bawle] in the Baloué language) are an Akan people and one of the largest groups in Côte d'Ivoire. The Baoulé are traditionally farmers who live in the centre of Côte d'Ivoire (Ivory Coast), in a triangle shaped region (the Baoule “V”) between the rivers Bandama and N'Zi. This area broadly encompasses the regions around the cities of Bouaké and Yamoussoukro. The Baoulé have come to play a relatively important role in the recent history of Côte d'Ivoire : the State's first President, Félix Houphouët-Boigny, was a Baoulé ; additionally, since the Ivorian cocoa boom of the 1960-70s, the Baoulé have also become one of the most widespread ethnicity throughout the country, especially in the Southern forests (the « Low Coast ») where they are amongst the most numerous planters of cocoa, rubber, and coffee and sometimes seem to outnumber the local native ethnic groups.
Legend goes that in the 17th century the Baoulé left present day Ghana and traveled west into present day Côte d'Ivoire under the lead of the Queen Pokou. According to oral tradition, the Baoulé were forced to leave Ghana when the Ashanti rose to power. While they were fleeing for their lives they came to the Komoe river which they were unable to cross. With their enemies chasing them they began to throw their most prized possessions into the river. It came to the Queen's attention that their most valuable possession was her son. The Queen realized that she had to sacrifice her son to the river and threw him in. Upon doing so hippopotami rose from the river and allowed them to cross, saving their lives. After crossing, the Queen was so upset about losing her son that all she could say was "baouli," meaning: the child is dead. From that point on they were known as the Baoulé.
One of the favourite pastimes is the game “Atté,” which is similar to the North American version of marbles: Ivorians utilize nuts, not marbles. An odd number of nuts are placed in a circular pattern in the centre of two opposing teams. The two teams, roughly 30 metres apart, take turns throwing nuts at the circle of nuts. Once a nut has been hit, it is eliminated, and the team that hit the respective nut gains a point. The game ends when all the nuts have been eliminated, and the team with the most nuts at the end of the game wins.
The Baoule religious world consists of three realities :
- Domain of God (Niamien)
- The earthly world: area of human beings, animals and plants, as well as supernatural beings with vast powers who reside in the mountains, rocks, rivers, forests, etc.
- The beyond (blolo) where the spirits of the ancestors reside
Ivorian children begin aiding their parents with the everyday chores of life at very young ages. As soon as they are old enough, they either carry water from the village pumps or heavy loads of food and firewood to the village market. The boys, when old enough, may even help their father with clearing vegetation.
Like several other groups with Akan origin, Baoulé children are often named according to the day of the week or the circumstances under which they were born. For example, a male born on a Monday would be named Kouassi. However, there are slight variations in the spelling and pronunciation specific to the Baoulé. It should also be noted that the Baoulé have a calendar that is different from the calendar of other Akan ethnic groups. This may be due to the circumstances of their departure from Ghana and the need for them to mark a separation with the Ashanti Kingdom. For ethnic groups such as the Ashanti, Abron, N'zima, Koffi may be a name for a boy child born on Friday. For the Baoulé, Koffi and Affoué are names for Saturday, the day being Foué. There is, therefore, a sound common to the day and the names.
Baoulé names :
- Friday: Koffi, Affoué; the name of the day is Foue
- Saturday: Kouamé, Amoin; the name of the day is Monnin
- Sunday: Kouassi, Akissi; the name of the day is Kissie
- Monday: Kouadjo, Adjoua; the name of the day is Djole
- Tuesday: Konan, Amlan; the name of the day is Mlan
- Wednesday: Kouakou, Ahou; the name of the day is Ouwe
- Thursday: Yao, Aya; the name of the day is Yah
Baoule Name Exceptions
- When the newborn is either the third girl, or the third boy in a row, it is named N’Guessan – regardless of its gender.
- When it is the 9th child the its name is, independent from the child’s gender, N’Goran.
- The 10th child in the family is always called Brou.
Education of Ivorian children
Education in the Cote d'Ivoire is extremely competitive. Those families that can afford to give their children a private education assure themselves that their children will receive a formal education. However, if you are in the public schooling system competition is fierce. In order to progress to certain grade levels you must pass an exam where only a certain number of students are allowed to progress.
Due to lack of financial means, most Ivorian children use slate to practice their writing and other homework. Small notebooks are also widely available for doing homework and are turned in to be graded. Many homes have a wall with a large chalkboard where children are tutored or practice subjects that they have learned in class. In school, Baoulé children speak only French, but at home they speak their native language of Baoulé. French is taught to them in grade one and they speak it just as fluently as Baoulé by grade six.
One interesting note is that unlike in the American schooling system Ivorians never learn how to print their letters. Cursive is all that is used.
With regard to the Ivorian economy, coffee and cocoa are referred to as the chief cash crop. Up until the present day conflict, the Côte d'Ivoire was the world's largest exporter of cocoa. With respect to the local Ivorian economy, resources such as firewood and yams are transported to local markets and sold to other Ivorians or even foreigners. Within the local marketplace, one can find a wide array of goods, including tailored clothing, boiled eggs, popcorn and lingerie.
The Baoulé people are talented in African art. Their sculptures are renowned for their refinement, form diversity and the labor they represent. The sculptures do not only include face masks and human figurines but include great variety of work in gold, bronze and ivory.
The bonu amuen is a dance to protect the village from threats and it appears at the commemorations of death of notables. The Baoulé wore a wooden helmet that stands for a buffalo. Then they wore suits with raffia and metal bracelets for the ankles. The snout of the costume has teeth, which they believe a strong animal would defend them.
Other economic activities
The staple food of the Ivorian diet is the yam. The yam is boiled, and, when cooled, pummeled into a mush to be eaten. Yams, in addition to corn, are stored until they are needed. Foods other than yams are obtained from the local market. The most important food of the market is fish, which is wrapped in palm leaves, an economically efficient alternative to wrapping paper. Ivorians typically receive their meat from goats, sheep and chickens, which happen to be shared by the entire community. They receive their milk from their goats and their eggs from their chickens.
One of the basic tools employed by the Baoulé populace is the machete. The machete’s uses can include clearing vegetation or the construction of a paddle or canoe from logs. Another one of the tools employed by the Baoulé populace, is the snail shell, which is used for grounding and pounding tobacco, for the manufacture of snuffs.
The Baoulé political structure is simple; several senior village leaders get together and discuss various issues affecting their village. Each village is ruled by a village-chief (for small villages) or by a queen or a king(for large villages) assisted by somes notables or advisers. Queens and Kings rarely speak in public, but via a spokesman. Villages were dependent on others to form a canton or a tribe. Each canton is also ruled by a queen or a king. Everyone has a say, even slaves, and everyone was friendly and social. Baoulé political organization is matriarchal and women's rights are very sacred.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Baoule people.|
- For spirits and kings: African art from the Paul and Ruth Tishman collection, an exhibition catalog from The Metropolitan Museum of Art Libraries (fully available online as PDF), which contains material on the Baoulé people