Unravelling the Meaning and History Behind the Mossi African Masks – Paulski Art

Unravelling the Meaning and History Behind the Mossi African Masks

Ever heard of the 101 Last tribes of Africa?

The phrase "101 Last Tribes of Africa" is widely used to refer to the vast array of indigenous peoples that inhabit the continent. Each tribe is unique in its culture, language, and traditions, and all of them have a history stretching back hundreds, sometimes thousands, of years. Due to migration, colonization, and other external influences, many of these ancient cultures are now endangered or threatened. The term "101 Last Tribes" reflects the precarious diversity of the African continent and honors the people who continue to live out their traditions, despite difficult circumstances. The Mossi tribe is one of many on this list. 

Ancient Mossi warriors

The Mossi people are the largest ethnic group in Burkina Faso and have a rich history and culture. For centuries, they have been the dominant force in the region and their influence can still be seen today. They have a long-standing tradition of storytelling that is still practiced, as well as a deep religious faith that has been passed down through generations. The Mossi are an important part of Burkina Faso’s history and they continue to play an important role in Burkina Faso today.

As is every tribe in Africa, the Mossi are also known for their distinct customs, traditions, and practices that have been passed down through generations. They have also been able to maintain their language, culture, and values despite the constant changes in the region. This native strength has made them one of the tribes that have kept their authenticity through changing times, and have barely been influenced by the culture of the world today. The Mossi people are an example of how powerful a collective identity can be, remaining resilient even through times of hardship.

Mogho Naba - a Mossi reigning monarch

The Mossi people of Burkina Faso, West Africa, have a rich tradition of creating masks for use in religious and cultural ceremonies. The masks represent the spirits of familiar animals and a clan's ancestor spirits or serve as guardians of fruits. Mossi masks are typically made from wood and are decorated with intricate geometric designs and symbolic motifs. The masks are worn by members of secret societies, who use them in rituals to ensure a bountiful harvest, to mark important life events, and to heal the sick.

Masks are carved of the wood of the Ceiba pentandra, the majestic kapok tree. Its wood is lightweight and porous; good for making carvings, coffins and dugout canoes. They are carved in three major styles that correspond to the styles of the ancient people who were conquered in 1500 by the invading Nakomse and integrated into a new Mossi society. In the north masks are vertical planks with a round concave or convex face. In the southwest masks represent animals such as antelope, bush buffalo, and strange creatures, and are painted red, white and black. In the east, around Boulsa; the capital of Namentenga Province in Burkina Faso, masks have tall posts above the face to which fiber is attached. There is so much history to the Mossi people, but today, we will focus on the intricately designed masks.

Kapok tree

The most famous Mossi mask is the "Goli," which is said to represent the spirit of the Mossi people's founder, Ouedraogo. Ouédraogo, sometimes Ouedraogo, is a surname taken from the French spelling of Wedraogo, semi-legendary son of princess Yennenga and founder of the Mossi Kingdoms. Yennenga was a princess of Burkina Faso, who lived over 900 years ago, the daughter of the king Nedega and the queen Napoko. Yennenga, means "the slim" referring to her beauty. She became a cultural icon, a woman with a strong character and an independent mind and beloved princess who from the age of 14, fought in battle for her father.

Statue of Princess Yennenga

These masks, known as "Goli," are believed to embody the spirits of ancestors and are used in rituals to communicate with the spirit world. This mask is typically used in the annual Goli festival, which is held to honor the spirits of the ancestors and to ensure a good harvest. The Goli Tena is usually worn by a chosen elder, who leads the community in dances and rituals during the festival. Mossi masks are not only important to the Mossi people but also to the art world. They are highly sought after by collectors and are considered to be some of the most beautiful and intricate examples of African art.

Goli mask

Mossi masks are also used in other rituals such as funerals, purification ceremonies, and celebrations of important events such as weddings and the naming of a new chief. They are considered sacred objects and are only used by members of the community who have been initiated into the appropriate secret societies.

One of the most well-known Mossi masks is the "Tengu" mask, which is used in agricultural ceremonies to ensure a bountiful harvest. The Tengu mask has a large, stylized head with an open mouth and long, pointed ears. It is often painted in bright colors and is typically worn with a costume made of raffia or other natural fibers.

Another important Mossi mask is the "Wagawaga" mask, which is used in initiation ceremonies for young men. The mask has a stylized human face with a prominent forehead and a long, pointed chin. It is typically painted in dark colors and is worn with a costume that covers the entire body. 

African Masks insipired wall decor

The Mossi African mask has been an integral part of interior design for centuries. Its iconic and distinctive design is instantly recognizable to those familiar with African culture and artistry. Today, the use of Mossi masks in interiors is on the rise, thanks to its ability to bring a sense of history, culture and exoticism into any space. In addition to its aesthetic appeal, the Mossi mask is also a symbol of pride for many African-Americans and those connected with African heritage. By bringing this powerful symbol into our homes, we can honor our ancestors while adding beauty and character to a living area or office space.

Mossi masks are highly prized for their beauty, craftsmanship, and cultural significance. They are considered an important part of the Mossi people's cultural heritage and are often displayed in museums and galleries around the world. Make sure you visit our shop and get your hands on one of these adorned Mossi masks. We exist to bring a history and a culture of a people who ought not to be forgotten. Stay tuned, there is much more to come! Shop for the Mossi African mask with us today.