Nature, Spirits and Arts in Burkina Faso

by Christopher D. Roy
University of Iowa

Four nwantantay (plank masks), Nyumu family, Bwa peoples, village of Boni, Burkina Faso, 1983. Photo by Christopher D. Roy.

Among the Bwa people, who live just to the north of the Lobi and to the west of the Kassena, in central Burkina Faso, the graphic patterns that represent the religious laws each community or congregation must obey are made visible on the great plank masks which perform in the village several times each year. The masks are said to embody the spirits of the wilderness, which intervene with the forces of nature to provide health and well being to the community. In the case of the plank masks, which may be six feet tall and two feet wide, the broad flat masks serve as an ideal medium for displaying these laws in the form of graphic patterns. Here, four such masks, which belong to the Nyumu family in the town of Boni, are seated, awaiting their turn to perform in the plaza at the center of the community.


Burkina Faso; Bwa peoples. Plank Masquerade. Video by Christopher D. Roy.