Burkina Faso villagers use mystic masks to summon peaceWed, 03 Apr 2024 14:21:33 GMT

To the rhythmic beat of drums and flutes, hundreds of villagers parade through a remote town in Burkina Faso wearing large, colourful masks that represent bush animals and local proverbs.In rural areas, sacred masks are frequently used in important ceremonies including births, marriages and funerals.But in a country plagued by jihadist violence, villagers are now using the creations to summon a return of peace.On a Saturday at the end of March, locals dressed as animal-like creatures danced around Pouni, a town located 130 kilometres (81 miles) west of the capital Ouagadougou, to celebrate Festimasq, the festival of masks.- ‘Symbol of strength and power’ -Every design is different.Some represent an animal, like a crocodile, buffalo or monkey, while others are called “blade masks”, topped by a large plank of wood.”The mask is a sacred element. Our ancestors who were strong managed to tame the bush animals. That’s what the mask represents, a symbol of strength and power,” Yaro Boubie, a festival-goer from Zawara, one of the 30 villages participating in the tradition, said.But this year’s festival, the 17th year to be held in Pouni, has a political aspect.The theme, “peace and social cohesion in Burkina Faso”, was chosen due to the current environment in the country, Ya Herve Gue, president of the Amis des Masques (Friends of Masks) association and organiser of the festival, told AFP.”The mask is a symbol of peace and social cohesion that can be used to face the security challenges that our country is going through,” Gue said.”Zoomorphic masks are inspired by the attitudes of some animals to parody humans,” he added.”The blade masks, however, present proverbs, allegories of sorts that play a moral and civil role.”- Erosion of relations -The West African nation has been battered by a jihadist insurgency that swept in from neighbouring Mali in 2015.Thousands of civilians, troops and police have been killed, two million people have fled their homes and anger within the military at the mounting toll sparked two coups in 2022.The sacred sculptures have “an important place in the imagination of our communities”, Culture Minister Jean Emmanuel Ouedraogo said.Jihadist violence is causing “the erosion of fraternal relations and harmony that exist between communities,” he said.According to Ouedraogo, an event like the mask festival can help bring communities closer together.Ko Belibie, who participated in a previous festival, recalls a “miracle” that occurred during a Festimasq.”When I was young, there was a big drought. The masks came out for a procession and asked for rain. At the end of the ceremony, the masks didn’t have time to leave the place when it started raining,” he said.