The Art of Burkina Faso

by Christopher D. Roy
University of Iowa

Bolô Mask Functions:

Bolô masks are used in male initiations that have been described by Father F. Jacquinod (1963). Initiation of young men is carried out in five stages spread over several years as among the Bobo.

At the first level, circumcision (kinikènébi) is performed on young men between twelve and eighteen years of age. Circumcisions are held every three or five years during the month of January. Following circumcision the boys are taught the secrets of fiber masks of Dwo (Do-ulé). The candidates lie face-down on the ground and are whipped by the masks. They then take an oath never to reveal the mask secrets to women or children.

The second initiation level (kami or kamele) introduces the initiates to an enormous mask of leaves, named sula-do. The young men offer sacrifices and begin to learn the secret initiatory language.

The third group (dodi or do déu) performs sacrifices on a fiber-covered wooden magical figure called sèné dyo. They then belong to an age grade that wears the koufen masks, and that organizes public agricultural competitions.

The initiates at the fourth level kongodi participate in a great agricultural ceremony sèné don ba, in which they clear and plant a field and place a small protective wooden figure, yolo, in one corner of the field. They maintain order in the village through the use of masks of fibers with wooden heads that wander through the village at night to whip transgressors.

Finally, at the fifth and highest level, the tyèmogoba ("the old ones"), who are already married and household heads, fill various positions as religious and political leaders in the community. Jaquinod also notes that some women in the community who are considered to be trustworthy may be initiated in the secrets of the masks (1963: 141).

The initiations described by Father Jaquinod may be southern versions of the initiations of the Bamana jo society described by Viviana Pâques (1954).