The Art of Burkina Faso

by Christopher D. Roy
University of Iowa

The Western Style

The western area includes the Bobo and the Bolô, both Mandé speakers, and the Senufo-related peoples, especially the Tusyâ.

Common western characteristics include a heavy, protruberant, horizontal brow and a prominent, vertical, slab-shaped nose. These are common Mandé style characteristics. Masks are painted bright colors, often with European enamel paints. Red, white, and black geometric patterns, especially the Voltaic target and the checkerboard, do not appear in this area.

Bobo/ Bwa

Bobo masks are helmet masks. The head is a hemisphere surmounted by a sagittal crest. Bwa masks are two dimensional face masks: the performer's face is surrounded by a thick, oval rim that projects from the back of the mask.

Bobo masks are painted with patterns which are rarely carved in low relief and disappear if the paint is removed. In contrast, Bwa masks bear geometric shapes in low relief that remain visible when the pigments have been removed. Bobo masks' fiber costumes are dyed with bright aniline red, yellow, blue and green while Bwa masks' costumes are traditional dull red or black.

The distinctions between Bwa and Bobo styles, and between the peoples themselves, are very clear, and there can no longer be any justification for the confusion that characterizes studies to now. 
This survey of mask styles shows the importance of combining stylistic and historical studies when attempting to understand the origins and development of a cultural group. At the same time that knowledge of history helps us understand style relationships, the study of styles helps us understand historical events.

This study also demonstrates the strong influences some peoples have on others, resulting in stylistic homogeneity. Such similarities also result from the presence of "Centers of Style" where one family or group may carve masks for neighboring peoples. One of these "Centers of Style" exists in Ouri, where the Konaté smiths carve masks in the styles of the Bwa, Nunuma, Nuna, and Winiama.

This study also emphasizes the utility of surveys: isolated in a small village, scholars have no idea what exists a short distance away, and are unaware of the influences of one group on another. This calls to mind Kipling's story of the three blind men and the elephant. Each blind man touched a different part of the elephant, and, familiar with just one "region" each "saw" the elephant quite differently.