Nature, Spirits and Arts in Burkina Faso

by Christopher D. Roy
University of Iowa

Serpent mask, Bwa peoples, village of Pa, Burkina Faso, 1984. Photo by Christopher D. Roy.


In the village of Pa the people tell of an ancestor who accompanied a war party on a surprise attack against a neighboring village. The party was itself surprised and ambushed by their neighbors, and fled for their lives. The ancestor crept into the burrow of a great serpent, calling out to the serpent that he intended it no harm, and if it protected him he would honor it with a mask. When he returned to his village he commissioned a mask that was so long and slender it attracted great crowds at market day dances, who spent their money in the village market and contributed to the well-being of the community. The mask performer moves his head back and forth from side to side in such a way that the body of the snake above him seems to undulate in place.