Some ten years ago, when I began my guiding and adventure travels, I was sat browsing through albums in one of Kenya’s hotel restaurants, that depicted African ceremonies. With each new page, my eyes grew wider with astonishment. I now know that they weren’t photographs portraying long-forgotten traditions (although that was my impression at the time), but the most wondrous reality! I found this truth during my recent trip to Burkina Faso, where I got a rare look at animistic ceremonies and participated in the unforgettable Dogona Mask Festival, as the only white woman present.
But let us start from the beginning... landing in Ouagadougou
When I landed at the Ouagadougou Airport late at night, my guide who had over thirty years of experience, greeted me with great affection and enthusiasm. Very quickly and without unnecessary ado (which incidentally is not the norm for this region), he let me know that we had to change the schedule that we had set before my departure.
I admit I got a bit scared – the northern areas of Burkina Faso are not the safest, not only for visitors like me but even the locals avoid venturing there if it isn’t absolutely necessary*. Had some new threat moved to the areas I was to visit?
The reason, however, turned out to be completely different. The changes resulted from the desire to show me an extraordinary event that would take place during my visit to Burkina Faso. The annual Mask Festival was to take place near Bobo Dioluaso. Despite his great experience within his profession and numerous trips throughout the country, the guide’s excitement for the upcoming masquerade was sky high! At this point, I wasn’t yet aware of the unique nature of the event I would get to take part in.
Mask Festival - what's it about?
Unlike anywhere else in the world, West Africa overflows with animistic beliefs, where plants, animals and the forces of nature are marked by an extraordinary power. In addition to this, there are dozens of sculptures (fetishes) and masks which are visual representations of these forces, as well as depictions of the images that appear to witch doctors through their dreams. The Mask Festival (locally called the “masquerade”) is held at the time when animistic, divine spirits are especially close to the human world.