Nature, Spirits and Arts in Burkina Faso

by Christopher D. Roy
University of Iowa

Nyumu family neighborhood, Bwa peoples, village of Boni, Burkina Faso, 1984. Photo by Christopher D. Roy.

Most of the peoples of Burkina Faso live in communities that have never had a system of centralized political authority in the person of a chief or king. Instead, each community was composed of large families gathered in neighborhoods that were organized around small religious congregations, based on a common belief in the power of the spirits of nature. In some communities decisions were made by a council of the male elders of each family, so each family was represented in a fairly democratic system of governance. In other communities religious laws by the religious specialist provided the rules for the moral and ethical conduct of life. In this Bwa village, families live close together in neighborhoods that were tightly clustered for protection from raiding cavalry in the 19th century and from wild animals, especially hyenas, which continue to be a problem.