Statues from the Bete region are extremely rare, and their precise meaning and function remains uncertain. The Bete settled in the western central region of present-day Ivory Coast, on the left bank of the Sassandra River. They are divided into more than ninety groups, without a central authority, and belong to three distinct socio-linguistic zones. There are three urban clusters situated at the top of a vast triangle delimiting the Bete country: Daloa, Soubre and Gagnoa (Dozon 1985: 25). Very few researchers have studied these groups or their arts. In 1962, Denise Paulme published Une société de Côte d'Ivoire hier et aujourd'hui: les Bété
, focusing mainly on the Bete of the Daloa region, the closest in the east of the We region. Paulme (1962: 10) noted that the latter "[do not possess] any aesthetic activity, sculpture or painting," a conclusion that substantiates the comments published in 1947 by C. Halouin (1947: 35): "The Bete do not have their own fetish." At the same time, between 1950 and 1968, Holas carried out several investigations in the Bete country, this time including the region of Gagnoa and found that while figural statuary is unknown in the area of the We, statues were used in the region of Gagnoa, not far from the Gagou and Guro territories (Holas 1968: 27). One was found in the vicinity of Ouaragahio (Verger-Fèvre in
Barbier 1993: 90) and according to Holas (loc. cit.
: 135) this figure represents a deceased ancestor. In the past, at the time of a death and on the eve of a burial, male heirs cut a piece of bamboo the length of the body. This piece of bamboo, considered to be the receptacle of the life force of the deceased, was kept by the closest relative and carried by a female dancer leading the procession of mourners during memorial ceremonies. "This representation was sometimes replaced by a figurine sculpted out of wood, known as kouéi
, depending on the group in question. However, the latter case rarely occurred among the Bete" (ibid.
The present figure is closely related to a figure previously in the collection of Brian and Diane Leyden and today in the Musée du Quai Branly, Paris (inv. no. "70.2007.66.1", see fig. 1) which was sold at Sotheby's, Paris, Collection Brian and Diane Leyden, December 5, 2007, lot 9.