TITLE: Bwa Nwantantay
GENERAL REGION: Africa
COUNTRY: Burkina Faso
DESCRIPTION: Nwantantay Plank Mask
CEREMONY: Adult Initiation; Agricultural; Funeral
AGE: ca. 1990s
MAIN MATERIAL: wood
OTHER MATERIALS: kaolin; pigment
The Bwa people inhabit the Black Volta River region of Burkina Faso. Their masks are used by secret societies in adult initiation rituals, to celebrate important agricultural events, and to escort the souls of the dead to the next world. Bwa masks have a distinctive look, with geometric patterns predominating, and large concentric circles for eyes, to represent the vigilance of the spirit represented by the mask (reminiscent of the owl). The geometric striations are symbolic representations of important abstract moral principles.
Bwa plank masks such as this one are frequently extraordinarily large and heavy. This mask is nearly six feet (1.8 meters) tall. The masquerader typically wears a suit of thick raffia fiber, covering the entire body in a bushy heap. Unlike a secret society masks, the Bwa masks are owned by specific families and can be danced by anyone.