The Guro people live in Ivory Coast surrounded by the Baule in the east, the Gagu in the south, the Malinke in the north, and the Bete in the west. Consequently, they are influenced by and have influenced several other ethnic groups in their region. The Guro are a Mande-speaking people who probably originated in the Sahel region during the time of the Mali Empire.
They became over centuries some of the best sculptors of wood in the region, transmitting their techniques to other artists. Along with the transmission of their artistic techniques went the Guro's significant store of myths, legends, and philosophical concepts. Some people, such as the Mwa, Gagu, and Nwan, were assimilated into the Guro culture so well that they, in actuality, became Guro.
The Guro's traditional religion depended on the structure of the ethnic group. They are divided into nearly 50 villages and territories and given duties relating to the military and economy by consent. Because there is no king, queen, or chief, it is the council of elders who resolve all issues of land and kinship. In the event of a military action, a commander may be elected or appointed by the elders, but the commander has no further responsibilities after the action has been carried out. Thus, war generals and soldiers have temporary responsibilities. This system seems to preserve the authority of the elders and the ancestors in ways that more directly personal powers of a leader might complicate.
One of the reasons the sculptor is held with respect is the importance of masks for religious functions. There are several mask societies, actually religious communities, within the Guro known for their strict adherence to discipline. They are the Zambie, the Goli, and the Gye. Only men can be initiated into these groups. Among the members of the Guro who live in the north, actually those who have been influenced by Islam, young girls are excised and then initiated into the Kene society. It is reserved for women only. There are also other select groups among the Guro. These are called the Vro, Gi, and Yune.
Power, administration, economics, and ceremonies are shared among the various groups. The male-only and female-only groups perform certain functions and duties; duties are also performed by select mixed groups. Regardless of the makeup of the group, it is the eldest descendant of the first inhabitant, the one who is nearest in line of descent to the ancestor, a person chosen by divination, or the oldest man, who makes sacrifices to the village land. Any of these persons may perform the sacrifice to the land, but this does not bestow on him or her any particular powers of leadership. If there has been a special relationship with a river, a tree, or a large mountain or stone, say, someone has been saved by holding onto a rock, or protected from animals by climbing a tree, and so forth, a family may make sacrifices to that particular natural feature. The same procedure is followed in terms of selecting a person to lead the sacrifice.
The Guro have a special procedure for seeing that a person does not accumulate too much wealth. Should an individual by his energy and creativity become wealthy through hunting, exploring, weaving, farming, and selling his goods, or even warfare, he is given the special name of fwa, rich, or migone, king. With these titles, a person does not gain in political power, but is set up to lose his wealth so that it does not pass from one generation to the next. The required generosity prevents the man from gaining excessive wealth. Everyone expects that he will give whenever he is asked. Moreover, once he is dead, the funeral costs are so high that the family often finds that it will never be able to adequately recover in order to have some small wealth. The wealth is depleted in the burial functions and activities. Neither the children nor the brothers of the deceased will be able to be a migone. On the basis of this ethical system, the Guro are able to protect their egalitarian way of life.
- Asante, M. K., and Nwadiora, E. (2007). Spear Masters: An Introduction to African Religion. Lanham, MD: University Press of America.
- Balandier, G., and Maquet J. (1974). Dictionary of Black African Civilization. New York: Amiel.