The Art of Burkina Faso

by Christopher D. Roy
University of Iowa

Function of Tusyâ masks:

Masks are worn during initiations, while helmets are used in village purification rites and at funerals.


The initiations were held only once a generation, and contact with European culture has made them even more infrequent. The last performance in which masks were used took place in April, 1933 "just before the tracks of the Abidjan-Bobo-Dioulaso railway reached Bobo" (elder informants in Toussiana and Hébert 1961: 717). The masks are carved by a blacksmith during the initiation period, and each initiate is then allowed to keep his personal mask.

Initiation has been held in two major steps: every young man and woman is initiated at the lowest level in ceremonies held every two years. Those who are not initiated may not marry. During the initiation each boy receives an initiatory name that is never used in the village and is kept secret from women and children. In order of importance these names include the heron (most important), song bird, hare, stork, partridge, kingfisher, panther, cat, monkey, bush pig, bush buffalo, and elephant (the last and most junior level). The name the young man receives may be represented by the crest that surmounts his mask. Young women are not given masks. The young men are instructed in their rôles as adults in village society, and are given religious training.

The most senior initiation was held every forty years, and is marked by dances in the bush in which each initiate wears a mask that represents his family's protective animal spirit, indicated by the crest that projects from the top of the mask. The initiates go through the training and perform in the final dances naked. No costume except the short fringe on the mask is worn during the performance.