Brennan Rimer, Co-Founder of Journeys Unforgettable together with Angela Fisher and Carol Beckwith of AFRICAN CEREMONIES traveled to Burkina Faso in Western Africa, documenting the Masquerades.
For three and a half weeks we traveled to remote villages in Burkina Faso to photograph and film spirit masks from the sacred forest. These masks are traditionally brought out at times of initiation into adulthood and at funerals: they are also used to protect the village and to ensure successful harvests. Composed of elements found in the bush such as leaves, bark, fiber, and stalks of millet, the masks are believed to possess both the power of the spirits of the bush and the wisdom of the ancestors. At the end of our journey we attended the spectacular biannual Festival of Masks in Dedougou where we photographed and filmed an extraordinary array of masquerades from many corners of West Africa — Ivory Coast, Mali, Benin, Togo, and Burkina Faso.
Two key elements of culture in BURKINA FASO (a country once known as Upper Volta) are its indigenous masks and dancing. The masks used in this region of the western Sahel are made for rites of sacrifice to gods and animal spirits in the villages. Native dance, on the other hand, is employed to demonstrate the villagers’ desire for blessings by the spirits.
The Bwa wooden masks represent different characters related to the myths of their families and clans. Some masks represent animals, other represent bush spirits. The “plank masks” are very impressive with a styled face topped by a tall, rectangular plank. Plank masks tend to be painted on both sides with awesome geometrical patterns. Like all masks of the Volta region, the Bwa masks are chromatic with white, red and black as predominant colors.
Members of the BWA tribe in Bereba, Burkina Faso believe that the god Dobweni created the world by setting up an infinite number of opposing pairs. To maintain the balance of all things, the Bwa should foster harmony between these opposites. The dance of the sumbo poa masks is a kind of homage to the moonlight – the opposite of the day.