Nature, Spirits and Arts in Burkina Faso

by Christopher D. Roy
University of Iowa

Wilderness area near the village of Tiebele, southern Burkina Faso, 1984. Photo by Christopher D. Roy.

At the edge of the fields, far from the village, is the wilderness, a large area of untilled land covered by Baobab and Acacia trees and inhabited by wild animals, including monkeys, baboons, hyenas, and occasionally, in this part of West Africa, lions and elephants. This is a dangerous place, both physically and spiritually, for this is also the dwelling place of the spirits of nature, the powerful forces that give life to the forests, rivers, clouds, and land, and that provide for the fertility of the fields and the abundant rainfall that is necessary for a good harvest. Men and women encounter these spirits when they enter the wilderness to hunt or gather firewood , and children when they herd their father’s goats and sheep. Here in southern Burkina Faso, a Baobab raises its leafless branches above the terraced rocky fields at the edge of the wilderness.