Burkina Faso's Masks and Movies
We’re leaving for Burkina Faso in just two days! With our trip so close at hand, we thought it might be a good time to look into the culture and history of the nation. Like other West African countries, Burkina Faso has been inhabited since approximately 14,000 BC. Nomadic tribes still travel the nation’s northern regions and traditional religious ceremony remains an important element of day-to-day life. As one of the most ethnically diverse nations in the world, Burkina’s cultural identity is as varied as it is vibrant.
Of particular importance to the people of Burkina is art. From painting to music to the creation of pottery, life in Burkina revolves around artistic expression. Central to Burkinabé traditional culture is the creation of masks. Several ethnic groups, including the Mossi, the nation’s largest ethnic group, consider masks a critical element of religious ceremony. Mossi masks are crafted to represent animals, both real and fantastic, and are commonly used in funerals, memorial services and burials. In the past, masks were also used in rites of sacrifice. Dance, too, plays an important role in a number of traditional Burkinabé religious ceremonies alongside masks to entice blessings from spirits. Approximately 45% of Burkinabés hold traditional beliefs.
Burkina Faso is also the cinematic center of West Africa, home to FESPACO--Festival Panafricain du Cinéma et de la Télévision de Ouagadougou--the largest film festival in West Africa, launched in 1969. Films shot in Burkina Faso have gone on to win international awards and cover a variety of themes, often exploring clashes between modern and tribal values as well as the complexities of traditional Burkinabé life.
Burkina Faso remains a nation of villages, with 68% of the country residing in rural, isolated communities, many of which retain unique cultural identities strongly tied to their storied histories. The name of the country itself reflects the nation’s proud diversity--Burkina is a Mossi term, the nation’s largest ethnic group, and means “upright”, indicating a pride in one’s integrity; Faso is Dyula, spoken by several tribes in Burkina Faso, for “father’s house” or “fatherland”. Together, Burkina Faso means “Land of the Incorruptible People.”
We are honored to be working among such a dynamic group of people, and are looking forward to learning more about their customs and culture in the week ahead.