The Nuna are one of several people called “Gurunsi”; the others are the Winiama, the Lela, the Sisala, and others who live in Burkina Faso and Ghana. The Nuna are estimated at 100,000 people. They live in village communities in which a large number of dwellings are clustered close together, with the village surrounded by farm fields. The Nuna have no system of chiefs or other political leaders, although the French attempted to create such centralized power during the colonial period. Each community is instead organized by a council of the eldest representatives of each family who meet when need arises to make decisions on behalf of the community. The Nuna believe in a creator god named Yi. The Nuna communities are formed around the worship of natural spirits, which in turn establish religious laws that control the moral and ethical conduct of life in the communities. The masks represent the spirits of the wilderness. The Nuna make masks in the shape of poles colored red, black, and white, or in the form of animals who often differ only in the shape of their horns and ears: buffalo, crocodiles, antelopes, warthogs, hyenas, calaos, and serpents. The eyes protrude, surrounded by concentric circles, with a rather short snout on the animal masks, and a large and protruberant mouth on the more abstract masks. Decorated with geometric motifs, the masks are repainted every year; they are found throughout the region. The wearer of the mask may be invisible underneath the fiber skirt and must behave as the animal does, imitating its gait. When rituals are properly executed, the community receives fertility and prosperity. The property of an individual, a mask will, upon the owner’s death, be given to his son or kept in the hut of the ancestors of the lineage. The mask’s role is important during ceremonies at the end of initiation, at the funeral of notables, and as entertainment on certain market days.

There are also large figures used by diviners to represent a spirit from the wilderness with which the diviner could communicate and whose supernatural power he could control for the benefit of his clients. These figures are kept together with non-figurative objects, including jars, bottles and stones in dark corners of the diviner’s home where they become covered with a thick crust of offering material, especially millet porridge, beer and chicken blood. The figures serve the same function as the spectacular masks from the same people; they make the invisible nature spirits concrete and permit the congregation to offer their prayers and offerings.

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