Monday, 28 March 2011

More fun and games...

‘Les Masques’ are important symbols in Burkinabè culture, both as objects and as beings. I saw a fine collection in the National Museum in Ouaga, and have seen one or two elsewhere, but until recently had never had the chance to see them in action. So I was highly delighted with two opportunities to see the masks ‘come out’ (sortir) over the last couple of weekends – one in the old town here in Bobo, and the other in Pala, a village not too far away.

The occasion in the Old Town was funerary – the anniversary of the death of a senior Griot. Griots are a mix of court jester, musician, town crier, story-teller – usually in support of a traditional ruler. The custom here is for burial the day of death or the day after, accompanied by a sombre ceremony, and then a celebration one and/or several years later. The masks came out on 2 successive days, a Saturday and Sunday, in a well-organised and highly popular public event. The space in the Old Town was absolutely packed, with people sitting on wall and roof tops and perched in trees as well as cramming the semi-official seating. Hot, sweaty but fantastic atmosphere – not far off a friendly football crowd. The space in the middle was kept clear by officials with mean looking whips – I took care not to find out how mean. Musicians – different drums, flute – played, and the figures came running in, doing somersaults and other acrobatics.

The following weekend, at Pala, a small village just outside Bobo, there was again a massive gathering – the village was heaving.
The festival went on all day, with at least 3 performances, and some mysterious bits in between which women were not allowed to watch (so we were temporarily accommodated in a small room with not much by way of windows) and intervals for eating, of course, and drinking of Dolo (millet beer). Masks came, on foot, from Bobo to join the local ones; just outside the village, along the route, young men were practising gymnastics and acrobatics with impressive displays of jumping and turning. Lots of laughing and clapping, mock-fights but general good humour and free entertainment.

Impressive athleticism and stamina all round! And a new interpretation of “dancing on someone’s grave…”

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