The Yaure of Côte d’Ivoire, Make the Gods Dance

Alain-Michel Boyer

How many Western collectors think only of Yaure art as an art de salon, placing one of their “ravishing” masks on a shelf, not considering that in a village the mask is so sacred that it is forbidden for any woman to see it—at the cost of her life?
The Yaure, a small ethnic group in the centre of Côte d’Ivoire, have created a unique art. All the neighbouring peoples attribute power and menace to animal masks covered in coagulated blood, but the Yaure confer the same sacredness and dread on refined human faces with virtuoso lines, which seem to have been chiselled by a goldsmith.
These masks are charms. Giving material form to ambivalent deities—both benevolent and maleficent—they have the aim of beseeching them. The best way to win the gods’ favour? Invite them to the dance, enchant them, include them in choreographies that regulate their energy. It is during nocturnal ceremonies that the celebrations are the most grandiose, when the dancers, galvanized, twirl in the light of the torches. Mystic ecstasy restores a purifying sovereignty to the supernatural spirits that the masks are charged with symbolizing. Did not Nietzsche’s Zarathustra say: “I would only believe in a God who could dance”?

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