Rituals of Healing

By Barbara Thompson
Friends of Usambara Society, Tanzania (formerly Stanford University; University of Iowa)

Burkina FasoNuna peoples

Koan (antelope mask)


H.  56.52 cm (22 ¼”)   

University of Iowa Stanley Museum of Art, The Stanley Collection, X1986.584

While some rituals of healing help rid the community of affliction, others are performed as community efforts in prevention of misfortune. Masquerades are often conducted as purification rites or preventative treatment of the whole community against impending disasters such as drought, pestilence, warfare, or social disruption. The masks in this Bwa performance in Burkina Faso represent protective wilderness spirits that enter the community once a year to sweep it clean of malevolent forces. The video demonstrates how the mask performers recreate the character of the spiritual beings the masks embody, in this case crocodile spirits.

Bush buffalo and antelope masks, Nyumu family, Bwa peoples, village of Boni, Burkina Faso, 1983. Photo by Christopher D. Roy.


Burkina Faso; Bwa peoples. Crocodile Masquerade. Video by Christopher D. Roy.