The Art of Burkina Faso

by Christopher D. Roy
University of Iowa

Bobo Initiation Second Stage, yele nine daga:

The ceremonies of initiation are preceded by a preliminary step, a sort of "getting in shape." The most important aspect is the rediscovery of the ways the ancestors spoke and lived at the moment Wuro withdrew. For this reason, the initiates go out and live in the bush, far from the organized and secure life of the village. It is in the wild that they are best able to recreate the original way of life. This period of communal life is punctuated by a great ritual communal fishing expedition.

The goal of the second level of initiation is to transmit to the initiates the knowledge of the post-cosmogonic forms of Dwo, made visible in the fiber kele masks. When the date of the initiation itself is set, the young men go into the bush to make the fiber masks. This takes about a month. The women of the community prepare enormous quantities of millet beer which will be consumed during the ceremony.The ceremony begins with a lengthy flogging of the young men, again administered by the masks. Next, a communal meal, attended by numerous guests from related villages, confirms the cohesion of the ethnic group. Finally, the candidates are told of the appearance of Dwo to the founding ancestor: the kele masks with heads of fibers or of wood are the incarnation of a form of Dwo named Dwosine. They appeared on several occasions to the founding ancestors of the clan in the form of bull-roarers or of small metal masks, as described in numerous myths:

"An ancestor was looking for termites. Spying a termite mound, he struck his hoe into it to break off a section. The hoe struck a piece of iron... it was a bull-roarer... When he went to consult the diviner, the ancestor was suddenly possessed. The diviner told him that he must perform [a] sacrifice... the diviner's instructions were followed. The ancestor remained possessed... one day he was seen returning with three strange creatures... they were masks, but their heads were of iron and their tunics of fibers. They kept the iron heads et, later, made copies of them in wood" (Le Moal 1980: 286).

The objects which appeared to the ancestor are ritually revealed to the initiates just as the ancestor discovered them. This ritual is a way of perpetuating "the new generation attained at the dawn of the age of man"(Le Moal 1980: 439).

The religious leaders transmit to the initiates power over the kele masks. This transmission of power is symbolized by a cane which is solemnly given to the new initiates. These powers have been conquered by the new knowledge acquired during the second stage, and by the courage demonstrated during the physical trials.

The second stage of initiation ends with fiber mask dances, and with processions to the various shrines of Dwo.

At the end of this stage, the young men, called kelebayelele are permitted to wear fiber masks, and graduate to the third stage of initiation. They then are about twenty years old, and some are married and have children.