Nature, Spirits and Arts in Burkina Faso

by Christopher D. Roy
University of Iowa

Nwantantay (plank masks), Lamien family, Bwa peoples, village of Dossi, Burkina Faso, 1984. Photo by Christopher D. Roy.


The plank masks serve as moving, living signboards that display ideas about ethical and moral behavior. The cross at the center is worn by all southern Bwa as a mark of faith. The waves or zigzags represent the path of the ancestors, which every Bwa should follow if he wishes to receive the blessings and guidance of his grandfathers. It is a difficult path to follow and easy to go astray. The pair of concentric circles represent the sacred wells around which Boni was founded, and the crescent at the peak represents the hot season moon beneath which the young men and women of the community are initiated. The masks weigh more than sixty pounds each, and only the strongest young men, with neck muscles strengthened by months of practice, can wear the masks without serious injury.


Burkina Faso; Bwa peoples. Plank Masquerade. Video by Christopher D. Roy.