Signs and Symbols in African Art: Graphic Patterns in Burkina Faso

by Christopher D. Roy
University of Iowa

The small plank mask represents the dwarf ancestor of the Nyumu family of the town of Boni. The family tells of an ancestor who never grew above two feet tall, and who had a particular ability to communicate with he wild and dangerous animals that inhabited the wilderness that, in those days, surrounded every Bwa village. He was able to wander at night into the wilderness to speak with the animals, and although his father feared greatly that he would be torn to shreds by a lion or hyena, he always returned home safely. When he was very old and was on his death bed his nieces and nephews came to him and asked him how they could honor him after he had gone. He told them how much he had always wanted to perform with the great broad plank masks for which the southern Bwa are famous, but which were far too large for a person of such small size to wear. He asked them to carve a small mask, identical to the great planks in every detail, but small enough for him to wear in performance, and the result was the dwarf masks named luruya, after this dwarf ancestor.