The Art of Burkina Faso

by Christopher D. Roy
University of Iowa

Bobo Initiation Third Stage: The third stage is focused on the secret language and includes new rites of initiation. The study of the secret language by the initiates lasts about ten years, because the boys of the first stage study for five years, and then, after reaching the second stage, they teach the language to their juniors for another five years. The second period helps reinforce their knowledge. The secret language which was taught to men by a mythical squirrel, includes a fundamental oral literature which transmits the myths of the origin of masks, the legends about the ancestors and supernatural beings, and the accounts of historic events. Each clan, each lineage, can have its own accounts; others are concerned with the village or even the entire Bobo people. At this point, the young men must demonstrate, during an examination, their mastery of the initiatory language: they are required to recite myths and legends throughout an entire night.

The examination is followed by a ceremony that lasts a week. It is held on a specially prepared terrace, to which the initiates and organizers climb on a ladder carved especially for the occasion.

"The surmounting of the terrace, [is a] symbolic ritual act that represents the ascent the young men to the higher levels of knowledge" (Le Moal 1980: 474, and pl. 36).

Like the previous test, this one consists of the uninterrupted recitation of myths and legends in the initiatory language.

Two minor ceremonies end the third stage; the giving of a chair, a kind of symbol of merit, and the transmission of a password, a sign of recognition. The young men are now completely yelebire and can wear the syêkele masks of wood.

The Fourth Stage, yelebire daga: The initiation as such has been completed. There are no further new tests at this stage, which consists of the transfer to the yelebire of wooden masks by the senior initiates. The young men will prepare the masks and dance, and the same ceremony is repeated two or three years in succession. The initiates are finally considered to be adults. They are between twenty-five and thirty years old.