The Art of Burkina Faso

by Christopher D. Roy
University of Iowa


Tusyâ masks, called loniakê, are very two-dimensional, rectangular plaques of wood with a bird head projecting from the center of the upper rim, and a broad triangle projecting downward from the lower rim. Small, round eye holes are carved close together high on the face and are surrounded by wax into which red seeds are set. A similar cross of seeds divides the face diagonally into quarters. The sides and lower edge are pierced with holes for attaching a fiber fringe. Some examples bear mirrors on the face that form large eyes. The mask is surmounted by an animal head or horns, which symbolize the totem of the clan.

The helmets or crests represent the totemic animals of the clan. Only the Tusyâ whose totem is the buffalo make their helmets of wood. The helmets of other clans, made of fibers and other perishable materials, have not survived in collections. Tusyâ wooden helmets named kablé, are surmounted by very stylized figures of bush-buffalo. From the rectangular head projects a pair of broad, flat, curving horns. Long, slender legs flank the head and connect it to the hemispherical helmet. The head is connected to the hind quarters by a long, tubular body. The hindquarters are large and blocky, with a tail that projects vertically.