The Bwa live in Mali and Burkina Faso.
The Bwa from the north create masks from leaves in the effigy of Do.
Only the Bwa people of the south make wooden masks. These masks are decorated with very elaborate motifs and are multicoloured.
The masks are made in the effigy of buffalo, antelope, warthogs, crocodiles, snakes, monkeys…These masks may also represent some humans or bush spirits that have a supernatural appearance. The masks carry the names of the animals they personify. The only element that differentiates one mask from another is the horns. The muzzle and the bulging eyes are always the same.
The Bwa also make masks that are rather wide or horizontal in form representing an owl or a butterfly. The butterfly mask is decorated with concentric circles whilst the owl mask has no decoration at all.
The masks are worn in front of the face, and are often held in place by a thick cord that the dancer holds between his teeth.
Nwantantay masks are abstract and the faces are made up of a circle or oval, crowned by a high board displaying a geometric motif often in a black and white checkerboard pattern. The masks are associated with Do and the clan. The dancer sees out through the open mouth of the mask. The eyes are large concentric circles. These masks are inhabited by supernatural forces that have a positive influence on the clans that own them. They were worn at funeral ceremonies of important people and during market day festivities.
To the west of the territory, the Bwa have masks that are similar to those of their neighbours the Bobo.
The masks participate in events such as initiations, burials, and at the end of periods of mourning.
Bwa Social Organisations
The Bwa are divided up into three endogame castes:
- The farmers. Farming is above all carried out by men. The women give a hand on certain occasions.
- The griots or singers work the cotton, weaving and dyeing it. They cultivate fields for personal use, but this remains a marginal activity. The griots have an important role in public events.
- The blacksmith is also the village gravedigger. He is also responsible for digging the wells. He is in contact with the earth, hence the importance of his position in communicating with the supernatural world. Like the griots the blacksmiths cultivate the land purely for personal use.
There is no centralized power among the Bwa people. Each village is led by a council that groups together the oldest men of each lineage.
The religious chief or ‘labie’, who is the elder of the founding clan of the village, is the master of the earth.
Religious Beliefs of the Bwa People
The Bwa believe that the Definitive God created the world and man, he then lost interest and left them his son Do. Do intervenes during agricultural rites and funerals. Do represents the forest and mother earth that bore the plants and the fields.
The Bwa worship the cult of Do as well as the founding ancestors of the clans.
Bwa statues are quite rare and are used for divination rites and for ceremonies whose aim is to increase fertility for both men and their crops.
These statues were carried across the village and sacrifices were made to them.