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Wearing a Mask, How is it Respected in your Culture? See how it’s done in Burkina Faso

The 20th biennial FESTIMA, the largest International Art and Mask Festival in West Africa took place in the town of Dedougou, 250km west of the capital Ouagadougou. Hundreds of traditional masks from six countries Benin, Ivory Coast, Mali, Togo, Senegal and 50 villages of Burkina Faso, came to life during the festival.


The identity of the person behind the mask is always kept secret. Fibre masks from Lery village

Masks have been an important part of traditional animist beliefs in many African cultures for thousands of years. Made of leaves, straw, wood and textile, the masks symbolise the worship of ancestors and spirits. They play an important role during commemorations of rites and the cycle of life.


Ritual masks are common in many African cultures. Fibre masks from Daman village in Burkina Faso.

According to traditional beliefs, during the ceremony, the frantic music and dancing transform the entranced mask wearer into a spirit which communicates with ancestors. A wise man or translator sometimes accompanies the wearer of the mask during the ritual, helping to interpret the ancestors’ message.


Masks parade towards the stadium where they will perform in ceremonies.

"Of course, these masks are not given full power during the festival," one musician explained during a break. "Otherwise, you would not even be able to photograph them; nothing would show up in the picture."


The FESTIMA festival took place from February 27 to March 5, 2016.

Only a month earlier, the capital of Burkina Faso was devastated by a terrorist attack claimed by al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and Al-Mourabitoun, which left 30 dead and 56 wounded from 18 different nationalities.


Traditional performances were held at the Regional Stadium of Dedougou. Music is essential during the ceremonies and is played on traditional African instruments. Fibre masks from Boni village, Burkina Faso.

Ki Leonce, executive director of ASAMA, the Association for the Protection of Masks, said the attack left the country shocked because Burkina Faso, which literally means "the land of honest people", is known for its religious tolerance and peaceful attitudes.


A Gossima fibre masks head towards the stadium.

"There are two aspects about masks," he continued: "One is cult and the other is culture; there might be a religious conflict for people who venerate masks, but there is no conflict from the cultural point. It is our cultural patrimony, every African, every Burkinabe shares it and we should not allow other people to dictate our way of thinking, but preserve our cultural heritage."


A Zangbeto mask from Benin.

During the festival, masks were incredibly alive and some tourists attended despite the attacks. ASAMA is hoping to obtain funds to invite even more nations and masks to participate in the festival in 2018.


A warthog fibre mask from Gossima performs in a series of dances, displaying powerful and fast movements which allow the wearer to fall into a state of trance.


Audiences gather to watch the various FESTIMA ceremonies in the stadium of Dedougou.


A traditional Dogon mask from Mali.


Traditional Dogon masks from Mali. ’Of course, these masks are not given full power during the festival,’ one musician explained during a break. ’Otherwise, you would not even be able to photograph them; nothing would show up in the picture.’


A Kayan mask wearer rests in the regional stadium of Dedougou. The masks are a ’cultural patrimony; every African, every Burkinabe shares it, and we should not allow other people to dictate our way of thinking, but preserve our cultural heritage,’ explained Ki Leonce, executive director of ASAMA, the Association for the Protection of Masks.

Fibre mask wearers from Tcheriba village marched towards the Regional Stadium of Dedougou. Masks are an integral part of the life of the village, and the craft of mask making and mask-wearing has been passed on from generation to generation.


It is believed that the spirit of the ancestors possesses the wearer as he enters into a state of trance.


Fibre mask wearers from Gossima wait to perform under the heat of Dedougou, which is located 250km west of the capital of Burkina Faso.


Masks of leaves from the village of Mamou are paraded across the main street of Dedougou.


People gather to watch the parade of masks proceeding through Dedougou.


A mask from Ouangolodougou made only of textile is displayed by its wearer in a special part of the festival dedicated to night masks.


Textile night mask from Lekoro performed during nighttime ceremonies.


A leaf mask from Lekuy, Burkina Faso, outside a private house in Dedougou. Leaf masks are believed to preserve the social structure by enhancing fertility and marriage. Often after festival performances, masks tour the town of Dedougou, visiting houses of interested families, usually the wealthy, to collect money.


A young tourist observes a mask of leaves from the town of Dedougou.


A mask of leaves from the town of Dedougou is carried around the town. ASAMA is hoping to obtain funds to invite even more nations and masks to participate in the festival in 2018.


A mask from Lekuy village greets the chief of the Canton of Dedougou. The father of the current chief, Dayo Bajmamou, first established the festival in 1996. Every evening, several masks pay homage to the chief with a performance in his courtyard.

By Robert Muriisa.

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