The name Gurunsi doesn’t correspond to any particular ethnic group.
It is the Mossi that gave this name to the diverse peoples that live in Burkina Faso, to the west and south of the Mossi plateau. The Mossi have never succeeded in controlling the Gurunsi. This name has a pejorative sense for the ethnic groups concerned: the Winiama, the Nuna, the Nunuma, the Lela, the Sisala…The Gurunsi (Gourounsi) are made up of about 300,000 people. The largest ethnic group is that of the Nuna.
Only the Nuna, the Nunuma and Winiama are true sculptors. Above all they are known for their zoomorphic masks, covered with geometric motifs. The masks have concentric eyes and polychromatic effects in black, white and red. Winiama sculptures are the most geometric.
Gurunsi (Gourounsi) Masks
The masks represent the spirits of the bush.
The Nuna, the Nunuma and the Winiama create masks in the form of animals coloured in black, red and white. These masks can only be differentiated by their horns and their ears. These groups sculpted masks representing buffalo, snakes, antelope, warthogs, hyenas, hornbills and crocodiles. The eyes are bulging and framed by concentric circles. The muzzles are quite short for animal masks. There are other more abstract masks that have wide protruding mouths. These masks, decorated with geometric forms were repainted every year.
The wearer of the mask would disappear underneath his fibre skirt and move about in the manner of the animal whose mask he was wearing.
The Nuna, Winiama, Lela and Nunuma have influenced the style of the masks of their neighbours the Bwa and the Mossi.
The masks belong to an individual, and are given to his son at his death or stored in the ancestor’s hut.
The masks play an important part in the ceremonies that mark the end of an initiation, funerals of notaries or entertainment that is organized on market days.
Bush masks are consecrated to the spirit of Su, but there are other masks associated with hunters or farmers.
Gurunsi (Gourounsi) Statues
Gurunsi (Gourounsi) statues are kept in the villager’s huts or on family altars and are used for divination purposes.
Political and Economic Organisation of the Gurunsi (Gourounsi)
The Gurunsi (Gourounsi) had no political organization or centralized power. They were led by the council of elders of lineage.
The Gurunsi (Gourounsi) are farming people. Fields belonging to the community are farmed by societies of young people. During the dry season they hunt and fish.
The Religious Beliefs of the Gurunsi (Gourounsi)
The Gurunsi (Gourounsi) believe in a God creator called Yi that distanced himself from man after creating the world. Yi gave Su the task of taking care of man. Su is represented in both the masks and the statues. An altar is consecrated to Yi in the centre of the village. Moreover, each clan keeps magical objects in a hut that allows them to communicate with the forces of nature.
When the rituals are correctly carried out, the Gurunsi (Gourounsi) enjoy both prosperity and fecundity.
A magician’s renown can travel far. A diviner owns many different magical objects: wooden or bronze statues, clay balls, and wooden staffs decorated with figurines.
Social Organisation, and Initiation among the Gurunsi (Gourounsi)
Initiation happens every three, five or seven years, depending on the village. The initiation lasts fourteen days and takes place next to an area of marshy land. The use of masks is taught to the young initiates who also have to undergo a series of moral, physical and intellectual tests. At the end of the initiation the young initiates return to the village and give offerings to the Su spirit.
The young initiates dress in clothes made of fibres and dance on market days until the rainy season begins. Only those that dance well will be granted, by the elders, the right to put on the costume and dace again.
Throughout the year, if health or prosperity is threatened, libations of blood are made and poured over a magical object or a new mask might be made.