By Allen F. Roberts
University of California, Los Angeles (formerly University of Iowa)

Bwa peoples, Burkina Faso, children wearing masks. Photo by Christopher D. Roy, 1983-85.

In the liminal phase, initiands are “interstructural beings”: no longer boys, not yet men. Such paradox results in “a realm of pure possibility whence novel configurations of ideas and relations may arise.” Liminality “enfranchises speculation,” as Victor Turner (1970: 105-106) found while studying boys' initiation among Ndembu people of northwestern Zambia. Indeed, the primary purpose of initiation is to allow and promote creative reflection. This educational process is often facilitated through exhibitions of sacred objects and performances invoking spiritual powers. Among Bobo, Bwaba, and related peoples of Burkina Faso, elaborately constructed leaf masks partake of Dwo, the essence of spirituality defining and binding the community. The formlessness of these masks bespeaks the unlimited power of Dwo (see Roy 2006).