baule heddle pulley
country: ivory coast
material: wood, grass, glossy patina
size: 8" (20.3 cm)
provenance: private USA estate collection.
Used on a narrow strip loom, these pulleys were both functional and aesthetic. It eased the movements of the heddles in separating the warp threads to allow the shuttle carrying the weft thread to pass through. A heddle pulley like this also calls attention to the skills of the sculptor who carved it, advertising his availability to undertake commissions to carve other figurative art, such as masks or shrine figures. The Buffalo carving surmounting the heddle pulley is representative of the Baule Bo Nun Amuin mask. The artistry of the Baule carvers is evident in the detail of the carving, and the passion that went into decorating everyday items. The Baule name comes from their myth of origin. In the seventeenth century, in what is today known as Ghana, the Denkyera kingdom rose to prominence, but a dispute led to a dynasty leaving the country. Abla Poku, the queen, had to flee far from Kumasi with her people, the Asabu, whom she led through the forests, but their trip was brought up short by the Comoe river. she consulted her diviner, who told her that to ensure safe passage across the river, she would have to sacrifice her only child. So, eager to escort her people to the promised land, she decided the she herself would throw the child into the waters as an offering to the river gods, crying out "Baouli" ("My child is dead!"), and the followers are said to have adopted this word as the name for their people in honor of the queen's sacrifice.