TRIBAL AFRICAN ART

BOBO (also see related Bwa, Mossi and Nunuma)

In the literature on African art they are often called the Bobo-Fing, but they call themselves Bobo. They number 130,000. They live in eastern Burkina Faso, and also in Mali. They are farmers. The major food crops are sorghum, millet, yams, and maize. They grow cotton and peanuts as cash crops. Their lives are regulated by a council of elders. The notion of having a chief is profoundly foreign to them and they consider it to be dangerous -- as waging a severe attack on the order of things as established by the god. The Bobo god, creator of earth and animals, is Wuro, who formed the world from a ball of mud. The first man created was a blacksmith. Dwo, a son of the Wuro was responsible for helping humankind. The blacksmiths were the priests of Dwo worship. Spirits of the bush and ancestors received sacrifices. Dwo was the intermediary between humankind and the creator; masks are the mainstay of tradition and their meaning was revealed to young boys during their initiation period. Living in a region of dry savannas where harvests depend on rainfall, the Bobo instituted a series of purification rituals in order to reconcile themselves with nature. Since it is proper to make amends for the errors of humankind, masks have the essential function of erasing evil and reinstating the God-given balance between sun, earth, and rain. At the end of the dry season and before the work of cultivation begins, purification ceremonies take place, using masks of leaves incarnating Dwo and masks of fiber and wood, which represent the protective spirits of the village: warthog, male buffalo with flat horns, rooster with its crest standing perpendicular to its face, toucan, fish, antelope, serpent, and hawk. All of them incarnate the forces of fertility, fecundity, and growth.   The masks symbolize animals or spirits and are worn during ceremonies associated with new crops, initiations and funerals. Among the Bobo, the sacredness of the mask derives from the fact that the divinity is considered to be present in the mask and, through it to be acting. The wearer is depersonalized to the advantage of the mask that he animates. To be a “mask”, man had to erase himself, that is to say, cease to be himself, shed his individuality. The Bobo also cast bronze pendants and statues.

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