The Art of Burkina Faso

by Christopher D. Roy
University of Iowa


In February, 1983, I attended the funeral of a male elder of a Dafing family named Tamani in the Bwa village of Banu, near Bagassi. The Tamani family in Banu had been founded by an emigrant from the Dafing village of Mana, about 10 kilometers to the north. As a result, four leaf masks and two wooden masks from Mana participated in the funeral to honor the deceased and send his spirit on its journey to the land of ancestors. The leaf masks appeared early in the morning, arriving from the bush east of the village. Each mask was called by drummers, and was greeted by young men of the clan. Dancing closer and closer to the village, each mask in turn performed just in front of the musicians before taking its place near the entrance to the dead man's compound. When all had assembled, the musicians entered the compound where, followed by the leaf masks and all the members of the Tamani family, they made three circuits of the compound before stopping on the grave of the dead man, in a corner of the courtyard. Each mask danced in turn on the tomb before everyone left the compound for a performance in the open area in front of the Tamani home. A very large bowl of millet flour and water mixed with honey had been placed beneath a tree near the performance area, and during the mask dance several young boys, as well as elder members of the Tamani family, consumed this offering, which was intended to nourish the spirit on its journey.

Late in the afternoon, two masks of wood emerged from a straw enclosure at the center of the village and repeated the actions of the leaf masks. A mask with a crocodile framed by curving horns, named bamba, accompanied by an antelope mask (ghû), performed in the courtyard and on the tomb of the deceased. Both masks wore aniline red and black costumes of fibers from Kenaf. With the antelope leading, a long procession wound its way through the village to dance on the dead man's tomb. The oldest son of the deceased followed holding a framed photograph of his father as a young husband surrounded by his wives and children. Just before sundown the wood masks made their way up the rocky path toward their home village of Mana, ending the ceremonies for the day.