Art & Culture

In Burkina Faso: FESTIMA, a festival of African masks

By Jacob Balzani Loov

Dedougou, 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.

Masks have been an important part of traditional animist beliefs in many African cultures for thousand 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.

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.

“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.”

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