Women and Political Power

By Mary Nooter Roberts
University of California, Los Angeles

Burkina Faso; Mossi peoples

Female figure


H. 56.5 cm (22 ¼”)

University of Iowa Stanley Museum of Art, The Stanley Collection, X1986.385

Depictions of women also were and continue to be used as leadership symbols in less centralized societies where they allude to ancestral authority and cultural continuity. Among Mossi peoples in Burkina Faso, society is composed of two important strata. Nakomse (a political elite) is descended from mounted warriors who arrived in the late fifteenth century, and a large class of nyonyose (commoners) is descended from the original inhabitants of the region. Sculpted wooden figures are used by both groups, but the most important of figures is a standing female figure commissioned by every influential nakomse chief which serves as a symbol of his office while he is alive, and as a memorial to a reign after his death.

Mossi peoples, Burkina Faso, chief’s house. Photo by Christopher D. Roy.