The University of Iowa University of Iowa

The Art of Burkina Faso

by Christopher D. Roy (1947-2019)
University of Iowa

Protection of the Clan

Totemic masks also serve as direct lines of communication to the ancestors of the clan to which they belong. The mask, stripped of its costume, which is stored separately, becomes the personal ancestral altar of the owner and his lineage. Sacrifices are made directly on the mask, seeking the aid of the lineage ancestors in providing many healthy children, good wives, abundant rainfall, good crops, and success in any endeavor to be undertaken by the supplicant.

Sacrifices may be offered to the protective spirits through masks by supplicants who are not members of the lineage or clan that owns the mask. A spirit may acquire a reputation for effectiveness in dealing with a problem or disease, and people may come from great distances to offer sacrifices to obtain its help. In these cases, the male head of the lineage intercedes to perform the sacrifices offered by the supplicant. A person who wishes to communicate with the spirit to obtain some favor first visits a local diviner (bouga) to determine, by various means but primarily by the casting of cowries, which spirit mask in the community will best serve the client under the circumstances. The diviner will indicate the mask to be addressed and the requisite sacrifices:

If a man has been married for three years and his wife has not borne a child, he takes ash (tom-pelem) in his left hand and circles the mask with it three times in a counterclockwise direction, saying to the mask that if his wife is given children by the ancestors he will give the mask a dog, a chicken, millet beer (dam), or millet water (zomkom). When he speaks to the mask he speaks to the sisé, (souls) of the yabaramba (grandfathers). He speaks to the mask and the grandfathers hear.

If a child is born, it is named Wango, after the mask. If the child is a boy it is named Wan-daogo ("male mask), if a girl, Wan-poko ("female mask"). After that his wife will continue to have children.

If the man or someone in his family is sick, and the hospital doesn't work, he asks the mask and the mask gives health. If he wants money, or work, or anything else, he goes to the mask and he will have it (Bonkoungo Rasablaga, 2/9/77, Yako).