Life behind a mask
In Burkina Faso, FESTIMA, a festival devoted to African masks, is held every two years, featuring parades and ritual dances.
In African cultural tradition, each village has its own unique masks. They are representations of different clans, animals or spirits. As sometimes happens with ancestral traditions, their practice has become gradually overlooked as time has gone on. The FESTIMA was started to bring these tribes back together and establish a dialogue between them. Rhythmic percussion, frenetic dances, handicrafts using natural materials, colourful clothing, good and evil spirits…you can see and breathe all of it at the largest international festival of masks and African art in the world, which is held every other February in Burkina Faso.
The festival was created in 1996 and is the largest event focused on defending the traditional culture of African masks. “This is the heritage of our ancestors and one that must not be lost”, explains KI Léonce, deputy executive secretary of ASAMA, the entity that organises the festival.
The Gelede mask is a holy mask from Benin..
This is the meeting point for dozens of African societies from Burkina Faso, Benin, the Ivory Coast, Gambia, Mali, Togo and Senegal. The city of Dédougou is completely transformed and for four days, becomes the epicentre for the dissemination of this cultural expression. Each event attracts almost 100,000 visitors from all over the world. “Masks are part of life. They have the ability to provide food, rain, health and other blessings to society”, the organisation explains, adding, masks are messengers that allow humans to communicate with their ancestors. These masks are therefore a religion. We highlight their value in order to ensure the survival of humanity”.
Masks are messengers that allow humans to communicate with their ancestors.
The festival programme includes conferences and debates with researchers, a market of selected local products, exhibitions, workshops and even specialised events for children. At FESTIMA, grand ceremonies are staged in which antelopes, hares, alligators, ducks, monkeys, snakes, turtles and the spirits of the inhabitants of the savannah perform their dances in a breath-taking thousand-year-old show. This is a performance defined by the beauty of the masks and the complexity of the choreography. It’s the best opportunity to see close to five hundred traditional costumes made using leaves, cloth, straw, tree bark and fabric in what is a delight for the senses for foreign visitors and a true religious ceremony for locals. The beauty of the masks has the power to transport you back in time and into another dimension.
Burkina Faso is one of the poorest countries in the world in economic terms, but has enormous cultural riches.
The use of masks in tribal initiation rituals and funerals is usual amongst the Dogon.