Elderhood

By Christopher D. Roy
University of Iowa

Burkina Faso; Bwa peoples

Mask

Wood

H. 250.2 cm (98")

The University of Iowa Museum of Art, The Stanley Collection, X1986.516

Among several peoples in Burkina Faso and elsewhere in Africa there is no centralized system of political authority that might be associated with the words "chief" or "ruler."  Instead, power lies in the hands of a council of the senior members of each of the families in the community.  Although the members of these councils are usually male, they may include senior women who have passed the childbearing years.  The most senior of the council members is the elder of the lineage that first settled the village, the first inhabitants of the land.  Because each of the families' interests are represented by one or more elders, the system is quite democratic.  In this region the laws that bind the community together are communicated visually by geometric patterns that are carved and painted on masks.  This mask from the Bwa people in Burkina Faso is a visual signboard of the laws that govern the community.