The University of Iowa University of Iowa

The Art of Burkina Faso

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


The Mossi make dance crests called zazaido (sing., zazaigo ) for a number of traditional religious and secular celebrations. Although zazaido and masks belong to two discrete traditions, there are important similarities between them in terms of form and function.

Zazaido are carved of a single piece of wood, usually composed of two stylized animal heads, facing in opposite directions, mounted on a small pedestal or base, with a short, decorated slab rising from the base between the two heads.

A small indigo-dyed cloth cap is sewn to the base, with long strands of twisted cotton cord attached to it, forming a thick veil, 30-40 cm. long, that obscures the performer's face. A heavy cloth chin-strap binds the crest to the dancer's head.

Zazaido are very similar in both form and function to the koni kun crests used by Jo initiates among the Bamana in Mali. A very interesting reference to Mossi wooden dance crests appears in the posthumous publication of Eckart von Sydow. Listed in his section on Mossi sculpture are:

"headdresses which should be considered to belong to the sphere of Bamana masks and which are described as `Jako' or `Joki'. They are composed of a double animal form with a ridge, curved on the upper side, and the heads of two antelopes. They are worn with a cotton cloth cap which is covered with a long cord fringe" (Berlin, Museum of Ethnography) (1954: 55).

The terms "Jako", and "Joki" refer to the Mossi town of Yako, through where Leo Frobenius may have collected this crest in 1907.

Animals represented on zazaido include the large roan antelope (wid-pelego), the smaller red bush antelope or duiker (nyaka), the wild duck (laidri), rooster (noraogo), and songbird (liuli). Occasionally, a human albino may be represented. Stylized features, such as the heavy horns of a buffalo, permit easy identification of the particular animal represented.

The large roan antelope usually appears facing forward, and is slightly larger than the figure that faces the rear. It bears large, strong, crescent shaped horns, while the duiker has shorter, S-shaped horns.

The crest takes its name from the smaller animal that faces the rear when the crest is worn. Thus, the zazaigo with a roan antelope on the front and a nyaka on the back is called zazaig-nyaka .

Like other Mossi sculpture, zazaido are decorated with geometric patterns that are burned into the wood and painted with red, white, and black earth colors.