The Art of Burkina Faso

by Christopher D. Roy
University of Iowa

Stools and Chairs:

Throughout the region, stools and chairs are used by men and women. As is true throughout the Western Sudan, men's chairs have three legs, and women's chairs or stools have four legs. Men's chairs are intended for lounging in the evening, when the sun is low in the sky and the air is cool. Then the male elders in Nuna villages light their clay or brass pipes and lean back in the large, carved chairs called dâgalo, or the smaller backed stools, called daô and exchange news of the day or play with their children. Large Nuna and Nunuma chairs for men are carved of a single piece of wood, with a sharp bend where the back rises at an oblique angle from the seat. A single, very thick leg extends downward from the front of the seat, and two smaller legs support the back. Occasionally an additional leg projects from the back so the chair can be reversed to be used as a recliner, with the long back parallel to the ground. The back of the chair may be decorated with simple geometric notches or elaborate patterns of triangles, rectangles, and diamonds.

Women's stools are generally smaller than men's chairs, for they are used when women sit before the cooking fire to prepare a meal.

Gurunsi and Bwa women use very simple stools with rectangular, slightly concave seats and two parallel, rectangular slab legs that extend the length of the stool.

Among the best-known women's stools from the valley of the Black Volta are small stools with four conical legs and a head and neck that project horizontally from one end of the rectangular seat. The head usually has very angular facial features that face down, toward the ground, and crescent or semicircular shapes above the ears that represent locks of hair. These stools have been misattributed to the Bamana, the Mossi, and the Bobo. They are made by northern Bwa smiths and are used exclusively by Bwa women in the area of Dedougou, Solenso, Sanaba, and Bourasso, close to the Black Volta.

Although Lobi stools frequently are placed on shrines after the death of the owner, I have found no evidence that the Nuna associate any ancestral meanings with chairs or stools. Old chairs are treasured as mementos and are passed from generation to generation until the legs have been abraded away.

The Nuna and Winiama carve beautiful wooden ladles or spoons that are decorated with the heads of protective animals and spirits. The carved heads look very much like masks. These are used to ladle out the sauces that accompany meals of millet gruel, and are intended to protect against poisoning. The bowls are a concave leaf shape, with the joint of bowl and handle near the center of the back of the bowl.

Stools, ladles, and all other treasured mementos that are no longer used become covered with a thick layer of soot from kitchen fires, while frequently-used objects are washed and rubbed with sand so they are a clean, natural wood color.