Do in Leaves and Wood Among the Bobo and the Bwa

by Christopher D. Roy
University of Iowa

Do in Leaves and Wood Among the Bobo and the Bwa [1]

Images of leaf masks

The character called Do or Dwo [2] appears in the religious belief of the peoples of central and western Burkina Faso, as well as numerous groups in northern Ivory coast and southeastern Mali. Engravings that accompanied the publication of Binger's travels to Kong in 1887-89 record the use of leaf or fiber masks to represent Do a century ago. The congregation continues to flourish, and ceremonies at which leaf and fiber masks representing Do appear are common occurrences in western Burkina each year from March to June.

In Burkina Faso the congregation of Do appears to have originated among Mande speakers, primarily the Bobo, and to have spread to one Voltaic group to the east, the Bwa. [3] The Marka Dafing, a Mande group who penetrated the valley of the Sourou river in the 1600's may have carried the congregation of Do with them, and adopted the use of Voltaic mask styles from their new neighbors, the Nunuma and the Winiama. [4]

Although the Bwa and the Bobo are similar in several ways, especially in the lack of central political authority and the common congregation of Do, they are quite different in their world view. The Bwa are open and receptive to outside influences, and their society is in a constant process of change, while the Bobo are far more conservative, preferring to preserve the purity of their traditions. [5] These differences in resistance and receptivity to change is reflected by their adherence to the congregation of Do.


[1] The original text of this paper was presented at the Annual Meeting of the African Studies Association Denver, Colorado, November 21, 1987, for a panel titled "Exploring the Lands of Do."

[2] I use the spellings published by Le Moal for the Bobo (Dwo) and Capron for the Bwa (Do) to remind the reader that we are concerned with two closely related congregations that preserve notable differences in belief, and that the information I use is drawn from two equally important first-hand sources.

[3] A great deal of confusion on the part of scholars of Voltaic culture has arisen from the practice of early French ethnographers (especially Tauxier) of referring to the Bwa as Bobo or Bobo-Oulé, with the implication that they are related to the Bobo-Fing. The term "Bobo-Oulé" is a Jula name given to the Bwa. 

[4] There are three groups of people in the region who have been called Bobo: the Bobo-Fing, the Bobo-Oulé, and the Bobo-Nieniegue. The first are the true Bobo and do not recognize any relationship with the Bwa. The latter two comprise the Bwa, and are quite distinct from the Bobo. The "Bobo-Oulé" (Red Bobo in Jula) call themselves Bwa. The southern Bwa are called nyaynegay (or nieniegue) "scarred Bwa" because of the elaborate scars applied to their faces and bodies. The southern Bwa live in the region called the Kademba. Only these southern Bwa use masks of wood. 

[5] Both Guy Le Moal and Jean Capron seem to agree that the Bobo and the Bwa should be considered to be distinct ethnic groups, who have drawn on a common pool of religious belief, resulting in many cultural similarities. Among the most important common characteristics is the cult of Dwo represented by masks of leaves. See Capron 1973:24-32.