The University of Iowa University of Iowa

The Art of Burkina Faso

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

Mossi Figures

There are numerous fragmentary descriptions of Mossi figures as early as 1904 by the French ethnographer Ruelle (1904: 683). They were later mentioned by Tauxier (1917: 384), and Frobenius (1926: 94), but none of the early sources mentions style or function of figures.

The Mossi produce several types of figures, including wooden figures that are used in burials, where they replace the corpse of the deceased chief. Smaller wooden figures are used in village ceremonies that honor the chief. Animal figures represent the ideal characteristics of the Mossi chief. The Mossi carve two types of figurative posts. Small posts that appear in male/female pairs are placed on either side of the doorway that leads into the chief's compound residence. Longer carved wooden posts support the chief's sun-shelter. The Mossi also cast figures in brass that represent deceased Mossi emperors. Some Mossi diviners use figures of stone or of wood. Finally, small wooden dolls intended for children are well-represented in European and American collections.

Except dolls, all Mossi figures, regardless of size, sex, function or material, are called ninandé (sing., ninana), which simply means "modeled figures."