The Art of Burkina Faso

by Christopher D. Roy
University of Iowa

Conclusions: The Style Map of Burkina Faso

Many of the masks of Burkina Faso bear tall planks that rise above the face of the mask, and are usually frontal. These plank masks include the karanse of the northern Mossi and numerous gurunsi mask types. Some Dafing masks are surmounted by a curving plank. Planks surmount the great nwantantay masks of the southern Bwa, and the nwenke masks used by Bobo smiths and by the Bolô.

Most of these peoples also produce stylized animal masks that reproduce the important physical features of the animal represented.

All of these masks may be placed in one of three broad geographical style groups. The determinant characteristics of these three styles are the presence or absence of the red, white and black geometric patterns and target-shaped eye. The Northern Voltaic Style, including the sculpture of the Dogon, Kurumba, and northern Mossi, the Central Voltaic Style, including the art of the southwestern Mossi, Nunuma, Nuna, Winiama, Léla, Dafing, and Bwa, and the Western Style which includes the sculpture of the Bobo, Bolô, Senufo, and Tusyâ. None of the Northern Style peoples use the target pattern, although they do employ red, white, and black patterns. These are ubiquitous in the Central Voltaic area. Western Voltaic Style groups use neither the target nor red, white and black patterns.

The Mossi produce three major styles of masks, with several substyles as well. The heterogeneity of these styles reflects the complexity of the ethnic composition of the Mossi people. The distribution of the mask styles reflects the distribution of the many peoples , including the Dogon, Kurumba, and gurunsi, who lived on the Mossi Plateau before the arrival of the nakomsé. Styles survived because the cultural traditions of the conquered peoples were respected and preserved by the invaders.

In the north and southwest the mask styles are survivals of the styles carved by the Dogon, Kurumba, Léla, Winiama, and Nuna ancestors. However, the stylistic dissimilarities between Mossi masks and the masks of their northern and southwestern neighbors make it quite clear that in the five hundred years since the nakomsé invasion the mask styles of the descendants of the autochthonous peoples have developed largely independently of the stylistic influences of their neighbors.

While the general rule that Mossi mask styles resemble the mask styles of their regional ancestors holds true in the north and the southwest, it is not valid in the east, for there the ancient Gurmantché populations never used masks, and the modern Gurmantché, who live in towns under Mossi influence, have adopted Mossi (nyonyosé) mask traditions and carving styles, rather than the reverse. It is possible that the origin of the Eastern, or Boulsa style is the area south of Ouagadougou, including Manga and Saponé, where a few masks in this style are to be seen. The style may have moved north parallel to the Volta River into the area of the Boulsa kingdom. There is no other ethnic group near the Mossi that uses masks in this style, so it is now impossible to find the link between the nyonyosé who use the style and some autochthonous, pre-nakomsé conquest group.