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Glé head

In 1938-39, ethnographer Frans Olbrechts travelled to Ivory Coast with two former students, i.e. Albert Maesen and Pieter Jan Vandenhoute. By their own admission, they were “not looking for gold or ivory, but rather for what might make Africa even more famous: its arts and its artists.” They collected over 600 artefacts made by the Senufo, Wé and Dan tribes, and documented them, including descriptions, pictures and film recordings. By considering African objects ‘works of art’ in their own right, Olbrechts went against the ubiquitous Western feelings of superiority.
  • Date: before 1938-39
  • Location: Zigro, Cavally, Ivory Coast, Africa
  • Origin: Gere
  • Collection: Ethnography
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The glé head was a sacred object. Blood, thunderstones, poison and other ‘magical’ ingredients had to be rubbed all over the head in order to activate it.

Who are the Gere?

The Gere are a tribe who inhabit the south-eastern region of Ivory Coast and Liberia. They belong to the Krahn ethnolinguistic group, together with the Wee, the Sapo and the Wobe. They speak a Kru language.

What is this glé head used for?

This head was called the ‘commander’. It was used during gatherings of the glé cult. The glé cult was introduced in 1928 by an African soldier who had fought in France during World War I. For that reason, many objects were given military titles. A flywhisk, for instance, was called a ‘tirailleur’, and this head was named ‘commander’. The glé cult attached a lot of importance to fortune-telling. When wearing a glé mask, a female medium could induce a trance. This way, she could consult the glé head’s personified spirit. The spirit would assist her in diagnosing the problem at hand.

Where did glé heads get their powers from?

The glé head was a sacred object. Blood, thunderstones, poison and other ‘magical’ ingredients had to be rubbed all over the head in order to activate it.

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