Nature, Spirits and Arts in Burkina Faso

by Christopher D. Roy
University of Iowa

A Lobi shrine, south of Gaoua, Burkina Faso, 1984. Photo by Christopher D. Roy.

The great numbers of spirits that are necessary to deal with all of the many threats humans encounter, the diseases, accidents, attacks by wild animals, death in childbirth, are made abundantly clear by the numbers of figures that are placed on a shrine like this one south of Gaoua. When a family, or several families, discover a serious need that can be met by a spirit in some distant community, they may move to that community, build a house, begin to farm in vacant fields, and become members of a new congregation that is focused on a particular spirit. When the need no longer exists, they may leave. One of the figures on this shrine has three heads, as evidence that it is quick to recognize danger and strike out against it, and to remind us that this is a portrait of a spiritual being, not a natural one.