The Art of Burkina Faso

by Christopher D. Roy
University of Iowa

The "gurunsi":

Masks carved by the Nuna, who live between the Red and Black Voltas south of the road to Bobo-Dioulasso, resemble those of the Bwa and southwestern Mossi, and all three frequently are misattributed to the Bobo because of the confusion of early French ethnographers about the identity of the Bwa and Bobo-Fing. It is most difficult to distinguish between the styles of the northern Nunuma and the southern Nuna, because both use the series' of parallel lines radiating from the eyes. In the north these lines are always straight, while in the south they are often (but not always) curved, sometimes forming an eye that resembles a flower with a circular center and four broad petals spreading outward.

The Winiama carve masks that are usually more angular and geometric than the animal masks made by the Nuna. Many Winiama masks bear one or two parallel curving horns which do not appear on Nuna masks. Winiama masks often represent spirits that are unpredictable and dangerous, and like humans with mental disorders, the masks are dark and unkempt, while Nuna masks are usually freshly painted.

Finally, Léla masks are most similar to the red, white, and black animal masks of the southwestern Mossi. These are smaller than the masks of the Nunuma and Winiama, and often consist of a simple, hemispherical cap-shape to which the attributes of the animal represented seem to have been attached as an afterthought (they are monoxylous, however). Geometric patterns may be burned with a poker, rather than carved in relief, as among peoples to the southwest, and patterns tend to be arranged in less complex compositions than among the Nuna. While Nunuma and Nuna masks are usually worn over the face, so that the performer peers out through the open mouth, among the Léla masks are more often worn slanted over the performer's forehead, as among the Mossi.