The Art of Burkina Faso
by Christopher D. Roy
University of Iowa
Carved posts that support sun shelters are used by Kurumba village chiefs and by nyonyosé earth priests in Mossi villages in the traditional northern states of Yatenga, Risiam, and Ratenga. Shelters are located at the entrance to the chief's home. Here, in the shade of the straw roof, he receives the heads of lineages or other dignitaries from the village or region. The roof is supported by rows of posts.
In sun shelters in Toulfé and La Titon the paired central posts rise from a low earthen mound which serves as an altar. Amulets and relics of the villages of origin of the deceased chiefs are deposited beneath the altar; sacrifices are offered on the altars on certain occasions in honor of the deceased chiefs. As among the Mossi I have interviewed near Yako, the paired central posts, placed near the earthen mound or stones that are ancestral altars, are male and female in character, and represent the ideal bisexual character of the chief, who incorporates the female and male members of the village he controls.
Posts are carved by smiths. On many posts breasts or female figures are carved in low relief. Posts are commissioned by people in the village who offer them to the chief as gifts, in expectation that he in return will later provide them with a wife. An important tradition in Mossi and Kurumba villages was the system of woman exchange called pughsiure, by which a chief gave a wife to a man in exchange for services. The eldest daughter of the union was then returned to the chief to be given to another man, perpetuating the system. This system strengthens the fabric of traditional society.
Chief's tombs are marked by stone stelae that usually represent a very stylized female figure, and may become, on certain occasions, the temporary abode of the spirit of the deceased. As a result, the stela may serve as an altar on which sacrifices may be offered to nourish the soul of the deceased. The stone stelae enhance the prestige of the deceased.
It is readily apparent that posts, stone slabs and the planks that adorn wooden masks are intended to be stylizations of human form. The triangles or diamond shapes that surmount the plank represent the head, while the rectangular plank or slab of post or stela are the torso, decorated with breasts. Ring shapes above and below the slab represent the brass bracelets worn by the wives of a chief, or the neck and sex.