- Measures 7.5" tall. Wood with patina . To the Baule people of Ivory Coast, West Africa, even utilitarian objects like the slingshot, known as potomo waka, are works of art. While adhering to the distinct "Baule style" that characterize all their sculptural works, these slingshots demonstrate a large degree of individual artistic freedom. Each one was believed to hold protective powers channeled through the carved faces on the wood that watched vigilantly over the hunters.
Baule Sling Shot
To the Baule, slingshots were much more than a weapon. They were miniature works of art believed to hold talismanic powers. Baule society is marked by great individualism, dislike of strict political structures, age classes and even secret societies, so prevalent among other tribal cultures. Their artwork can feature subjects ranging from idealized figures to deities and bush spirits in the forms of masks, figurative sculptures and utilitarian objects such as the slingshot. Their art tends to conform to what can be called “Baule style,” often characterized by sturdy legs, a prominent nose, defined eyes, strong brows and distinctly styled tribal coiffures. However, because Baule artisans freely choose, as opposed to inheriting their occupation, it can also be said Baule art is defined by rugged individualism and a sense of artistic freedom rather than restraint. This is most evident in slingshots, which are extraordinarily diverse in what they illustrate.
Slingshots, called potomo waka, share similarities to larger Baule sculptural works. In terms of posture, both slingshot and sculptural figures often have their hands resting on their midriff in a gesture of peacefulness and their faces reflect a sense of meditative composure. Sometimes, they depict partial or abstract figures, faces alone, animals and even other Baule works of art, such as masks. In addition to bringing good luck on hunts, it was believed the carvings on slingshots would protect the owner. For example, faces were thought to look out for danger from all directions; and some would even be carved upside down so the spirit in the carving would be 'right side up' when the hunter held the slingshot for use. Animal motifs channeled the natural power and prowess of the animal being depicted while serving as a reminder about dangers in the wild.
Baule fathers often commissioned slingshots for their sons to hunt small game such as birds and rabbits. It was a rite of passage for a young Baule boy to master his slingshot before becoming a “warrior,” but far from being toys, these weapons were considered objects of value and spiritual significance. They would continue to be carried long after childhood as a form of protective amulet or good luck charm. As an art form they are as beautiful and beguiling as any other type of Baule artwork; and viewed collectively they may be considered a distinct collecting category displaying enormous diversity and uniqueness.
No doubt each slingshot has a thrilling story to tell. If they could speak, they would talk about growing up, parental guidance, courage, confidence, character, patience and stamina.