Before You Go (Parade the Circle Edition):A brief history of Burkina Faso and the Bwa people

If you’ve been reading about our annual Parade the Circle event this year, you may know a little about our guests, La Troupe des Masques de Boni. These artists, musicians, and dancers are from Burkina Faso, on the southern edge of the Sahara Desert in Africa.

Led by master mask maker and artistic director of the Boni Village Yacouba Bonde, the group members put on choreographed masked performances annually in their village. During the last decade, Mr. Bonde has led troupes of 14 to 22 musicians, dancers, and artists to share their native culture with the world.

Where exactly do they live?
The Bwa people are native to central Burkina Faso, on the western portion of the African continent. After achieving independence from France in 1960, Burkina Faso underwent military coups before multiparty elections began in the early 1990s.

The Bwa population is approximately 300,000 people, and the native language is Bwamu. The Bwa live in independent villages, with no individual leader. Decisions are made by a group of elders.

What is the significance of the performances?
Bwa masked performances serve many functions within each community. La Troupe des Masques performs in its village during the dry season from January through June. Part of Mr. Bonde’s work includes initiating youth into the masquerade traditions, so that they may learn about their ancestors and history through performing.

Other reasons for performing include religious functions. Some Bwa people follow the beliefs of the Cult of Do, who is the son of Bwa god Difini. Do is seen as a go-between from nature to humans.

Why do they make masks?
Masks are an important part of the Bwa culture and the ceremonies. They can be used to depict religious spirits, like the leaf masks used to represent Do. Wooden masks are used to represent ancestral spirits.

The Bwa are best known for their wooden masks, which are carved from single pieces of wood. Many are decorated with geometric black, white, and red patterns, with marks similar to the scarification on the foreheads of some Bwa people.

To see a Bwa masked performance, be sure to attend Parade the Circle on Saturday, June 12, on Wade Oval. The parade begins at noon, with fun activities before and after at Circle Village, which is presented by University Circle. For more information about this year’s Parade the Circle, visit our website.

-- Kesha Williams

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