Nature, Spirits and Arts in Burkina Faso

by Christopher D. Roy
University of Iowa

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


The newest Bwa cultural “acquisition” is the religion of Mamy Wata, a spirit of prosperity and well-being that originated in the Niger River Delta, far to the southeast of Burkina Faso. Mamy Wata is a spirit associated with the watery environment of southern Nigeria, and so her image is part woman, part fish. In 1983, when all foreign workers were expelled from Nigeria, three young Bwa men from Boni returned home bringing Mamy Wata with them. Her image was then carved on the great plank masks as a means of communicating the image of this new spirit. As she is represented on the backs of the masks, she raises her arms in the Bwa gesture of praise for success and achievement.