Gold Figurine of a Bull

Cote d’Ivoire, Lagoons Region. ca. early 20th century
Copper, gold
Museum Purchase

The big men or “kings” of the various cultures of the lagoons region of coastal Cote d’Ivoire have, since at the least the 17th century, displayed their wealth in the form of gold pendant ornaments and figurines made using the lost-wax casting method. Gold pieces were accumulated by families, with additions made by aspiring social climbers who, as the Ebrie say: “add to the family chest.” Recognition of wealth through annual public “exhibitions of gold” is required for those wishing to become an age-grade official or village head. The objects are either laid out on a table for inspection or strung together and worn around the neck or in the hair of men and their female family members.

The imagery on the pieces reminds the viewer of the supernatural qualities assigned to gold; the faces of the ancestors, whose spiritual powers protect the big man’s treasure are often depicted. Animals, including the bull are also popular symbols of masculine strength.