WE Information

Location: Côte d'Ivoire
Population: 100,000
Language: We (Kwa)
Neighbors: Mano, Guro, Bete, Dan, Diomande
Types of Art: n/a
History: Although there are few sources available on We culture, much has been written about Dan peoples who live to the north of We territory and share many cultural and artistic similarities. Oral traditions describe We society of the 19th century as lacking any central governing power. Social cohesion was fostered by a shared language and a preference for intermarriage. Generally, each village had a headman who had earned his position of advantage in the community through hard work in the fields and luck as a hunter. These headmen usually surrounded themselves with young warriors for protection from invading neighbors and exchanged gifts with other chiefs in order to heighten their own prestige.
Economy: Young people strive to make a name for themselves by lavishly spending at community feasts to demonstrate their wealth. Rice, yams, taro, manioc, maize, and bananas are the primary crops grown. Although farming and hunting have been largely replaced by laboring in the diamond camps or working at the rubber plantations, the establishment of a hierarchical social order is still based on the individual's ability to succeed.
Political Systems: We political systems consist largely of non-centralized, fragmentary political groups, in which decision are made on behalf of the community by councils of elder men. Masking often served as a means of social control, enforcing the rules established by the elders. We initiation is not tied to Poro societies, as is the case of their many neighbors, but masks do appear at initiation. Performances also occur during funerals and for purposes of entertainment. Although described as primarily entertainment, such performances also contain social and political commentary that serve to demonstrate to the community the wisdom of the elders.
Religion: We cosmology holds that everything can be divided into two separate and clear categories. The primary dichotomy is between village and bush, in other words, things that have been controlled by man and things that have not. Crossing over the dividing line is dangerous business, and whenever it is done, whether to clear new fields or simply crossing the forest, the bush spirits must be appeased. In order to take part in village life, the bush spirits must take corporeal form.
Credit: McIntyre, L. Lee and Christopher D. Roy. 'Art and Life in Africa Online.' 1998: The Art and Life in Africa Project,