Bell Mallet (Lawle)

Date: early 20th century

Geography: Ivory Coast

Culture: Baule people

Medium: Wood, cotton

Dimensions: Height: 11 in. (27.9 cm)

Classification: Idiophone-Accessories

Credit Line: Purchase, Joan Taub Ades Gift, 2010

Accession Number: 2010.349


Handheld P-shaped wood beaters like this, known as lawre waka or lawle, are used in the Ivory Coast by diviners (komien) to strike a flat, flanged iron bell whose steady beat helps to induce and maintain a trance state. The entranced speaks with the voices of nature spirits to prescribe cures. The bell's sounding may last for hours, and after it is silenced may resume if the trance begins to wane. The handles of these mallets are typically carved to represent a coil, but in this example that motif has been replaced by an elegantly sculpted female figure with an elaborate coiffure. Aligned within the padded crescent-shaped striking portion of the mallet is a masklike dje (steer) head that also helps to transform a musical accessory into a work of art. Lawle are one of only a few items in which the Baule people incorporate dje heads.