NUNUMA (GURUNSI) (also see related Bobo, Bwa and Mossi)

A powerful Mossi tribe gave the name Nunuma to one of the peoples who live west and the south of the Mossi plateau, Burkina Faso. They are often referred to as “Gurunsi,” even though the Nunuma themselves consider this a pejorative term. Together with Nuna, Winiama, Lela, and Kasena they number about 200,000. As farmers, they adopted the slash-and-burn system of cultivation. Millet growing is crucial. The Nunuma organize large collective fishing expeditions during the dry season; they also hunt. They live in a region where the tsetse fly, carrier of sleeping sickness, is rampant. The peoples believe in a creator god, Yi, who withdrew from humankind after the Creation; in the center of the village a shrine is dedicated to him. Moreover, each clan shelters magic objects in a hut – these allow them to communicate with the vital forces of nature. While Islam flourished around, Nunuma continued to maintain cherished cultural and artistic traditions. ‘Decentralized’ and ‘stateless are terms that may be used with reference to Nunuma; leadership here is based upon the guiding wisdom of lineage priests and ritual specialists. Agriculture not only sustains and defines the world of villages, but its cyclical nature allows the Nunuma time to pursue other activities – carving, painting, building and firing pots – and to devote themselves to the creation of elaborate masquerades.   

They make masks in the shape of poles colored red, black, and white, or in the form of animals. The masks differ primarily by the shape of their horns and ears: buffalo, crocodiles, antelopes, warthogs, hyenas, and serpents. These highly stylized masks represent the spirits of the bush. Their eyes usually protrude and are surrounded by concentric circles. The masks are decorated with geometric motifs and are repainted every year. 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 mask’s role is important during ceremonies at the end of initiation, at the funerals of notables, and as entertainment on certain market days. The statues kept inside huts or in family shrines, are reserved for divination. 

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