The University of Iowa University of Iowa

The Art of Burkina Faso

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

Sun Shelter Posts:

One of the most common sights in any Mossi village is the straw sun shelter that stands in the official courtyard, samandé, at the entrance to the village chief's compound residence. The royal ancestral altar is also located in the samandé. Often the nakomsé chief may be seen seated beneath the shelter in conference with the bureaucrats and lineage elders in his village or region. Many of these shelters are constructed of forked wooden posts that are carved with geometric and human shapes.

The posts are arranged in rows of three, with from three to five rows, each row spaced about two meters apart. Sometimes very large shelters have from forty-nine to eighty-one posts, but in these cases only a few of the posts are carved. Posts vary in height from 160 cm. to 200 cm., but when they are in position a quarter to a third of the length may be buried in the ground. Posts are uniformly forked at the top to support the horizontal beams that in turn support the straw roof. The roof of the structure is low (1.10 - 1.50 m.), so that one must bend to enter. This provides maximum shade in the afternoon. In the most common arrangement of three rows of three posts, the central post may be doubled, with two posts placed side by side. Informants in La Titon told me that the central paired posts represent the chief himself, in his male/female character as the ideal physical and spiritual representative of the community.

The most usual decoration is a series of stacked rings that are stylizations of the brass bracelets, called kobré, worn exclusively by the wives of chiefs. On the most elaborately carved examples, common now only in museums, a female figure is carved in relief. Posts are not painted, and because they are constantly exposed to the weather, they are very worn, covered with deep fissures from frequent soaking and drying.

Posts are carved by smiths and are offered to the chief by the male heads of local lineages, who then expect favors in return, especially the gift of a wife for themselves or for a son. The shelters are erected during the chief's lifetime, and when he dies the altar at the center may receive offerings in his name.