Nature, Spirits and Arts in Burkina Faso

by Christopher D. Roy
University of Iowa

Mamy Wata mask, Bwa peoples, village of Boni, Burkina Faso, 1983. Photo by Christopher D. Roy. 

The presence of Mamy Wata, a spirit from the swamps and lagoons of the Niger Delta, in the dry, dusty plains of West Africa is a testament to the constant flow of ideas, as well as goods and people, from one part of Africa to another, spreading patterns of belief and the art forms that serve to communicate them. The image has spread across the continent, and is now ubiquitous in sub-Saharan Africa. Her presence among the Bwa is evidence of their willingness to adopt any new idea that will help them deal with the challenges of life in a difficult environment.