The Art of Burkina Faso

by Christopher D. Roy (1947-2019)
University of Iowa


Pottery is among the most vital of artistic traditions in Burkina. The descriptions of pottery forming and firing techniques among peoples at the headwaters of the Volta Rivers are marred by inaccurate generalizations based on too-limited evidence. Lucien Marc (1909), and Louis Tauxier (1912) and Eugene Mangin (1921), say Mossi men make and fire pottery. Louis Tauxier (1917) and Annmarie Schweeger-Hefel (1962, 1972, Vienna M.f.V. exhibit 1976) state that all Mossi potters are women. In fact, they are all right, for in different parts of Mossi country men or women are potters, and the techniques they use, like the styles of masks their smith relatives carve, vary from region to region.

Potters are often the wives of smiths, as among the northern Mossi and the Bwa.

Potters produce containers of various sizes and shapes for storing grain and water, large round jars for brewing beer, and smaller pots for cooking.

Pottery manufacture is carried out in five basic steps: preparation of the clay body, forming the pot, drying, firing, and decoration.

Potters mix the moist clay body with large quantities of temper obtained by grinding broken pottery shards on a stone. The temper, which has already been fired, reduces the cracking and breakage due to shrinking during firing.

Three forming techniques are used: direct pull, coiling, and molding with concave or convex molds.