Burkina Faso's Masks and Movies

 There are three distinct styles of masks among the Mossi people--Southwestern, Northern and Eastern. Pictured are three of the Southwestern style, Ouagadougou, delineated by their smaller size; geometric patterns; dark red, black and matte white paint; and depiction (generally animals or humans). Ouagadougou masks are either worn covering the face or resting on the forehead at a slanted angle.

There are three distinct styles of masks among the Mossi people--Southwestern, Northern and Eastern. Pictured are three of the Southwestern style, Ouagadougou, delineated by their smaller size; geometric patterns; dark red, black and matte white paint; and depiction (generally animals or humans). Ouagadougou masks are either worn covering the face or resting on the forehead at a slanted angle.

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.

  Buud Yam  (1997)  The most popular Burkinabé film ever, the historical drama  Buud Yam  is a sequel to an earlier film,  Wend Kuuni  (1982). In  Buud Yam , Wend Kuuni is accused of using sorcery against his adopted sister, causing her to fall ill. To both save his sister and clear his name, Kuuni sets out to find a powerful healer that uses the legendary “lion’s herbs”. Along the way, the adopted Kuuni learns about his own history and roots.  Buud Yamme  was shown at the 1997 Cannes Film Festival and premiered in North America at the Toronto International Film Festival.  Buud Yamme  also won the Etalon de Yennage (the Grand Prize) at Burkina Faso’s own film festival, FESPACO.

Buud Yam (1997)

The most popular Burkinabé film ever, the historical drama Buud Yam is a sequel to an earlier film, Wend Kuuni (1982). In Buud Yam, Wend Kuuni is accused of using sorcery against his adopted sister, causing her to fall ill. To both save his sister and clear his name, Kuuni sets out to find a powerful healer that uses the legendary “lion’s herbs”. Along the way, the adopted Kuuni learns about his own history and roots. Buud Yamme was shown at the 1997 Cannes Film Festival and premiered in North America at the Toronto International Film Festival. Buud Yamme also won the Etalon de Yennage (the Grand Prize) at Burkina Faso’s own film festival, FESPACO.

  Delwende  (2005)  Based on true events,  Delwende  tells the story of Napoko Diarrha, a woman accused of being a witch by a jealous husband forcing her to flee her remote village. When her daughter grows up, she searches out her mother to expose family secrets and exonerate her mother. The film examines the role of women in traditional African society and their struggle for justice.  Delwende  was screened at the 2005 Cannes Film Festival where it won the Prize of Hope award.

Delwende (2005)

Based on true events, Delwende tells the story of Napoko Diarrha, a woman accused of being a witch by a jealous husband forcing her to flee her remote village. When her daughter grows up, she searches out her mother to expose family secrets and exonerate her mother. The film examines the role of women in traditional African society and their struggle for justice. Delwende was screened at the 2005 Cannes Film Festival where it won the Prize of Hope award.

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.