Nature, Spirits and Arts in Burkina Faso

by Christopher D. Roy
University of Iowa

Leaf mask representing Dwo, Bonde family, Bwa peoples, village of Boni, Burkina Faso, 1984.  Photo by Christopher D. Roy.


The Bwa are cultural sponges. They are quick to adopt any new patterns of belief that they feel will help them against disaster and disease. The wooden masks of the southern Bwa are a relatively recent tradition, dating from the late 19th century when the Bwa acquired them from their Nuna neighbors as a means of protection against external threats and famine. The leaf masks that represent Dwo, the god of the wilderness and of new life when the first rains fall in April, are far more ancient. Yet even these were acquired generations ago from their Bobo-Fing neighbors to the west. The mask is made of a body wrapping of wild vines and bunches of leaves attached before dawn. The mask performs in the village until sundown, when the mask departs the village toward the west, with the setting sun, and the leaves are stripped and burned.