The Mossi people occupy in the region of about thirty thousand square miles in central Burkina Faso. The area that they live in is a great plateau that lies between 1000 and 1500 feet above sea level, working as a divider between the Mossi and their neighbors who inhibit the lower lying less fertile lands. The Mossi are a farming and herding community, growing millet, Sorghum and maize in savannahs, and rive in the river valleys. They also grow peanuts, mangoes and green beans which are more commercial, grown for sale.
Their society was developed in the 15th and 16th centuries with the fusion of invaders from Ghana with the local populations. The conquered peoples were amalgamated without regard for ethnic origin, forming the larger Mossi people, in which the recent arrivals gradually intermarried with the daughters of older families, reinforcing social cohesion. Their political power is held by the Nakomse, whose ancestors were the raiding invaders in the 15th and 16th centuries. The religious leaders are the Tengabisi.
The traditional Mossi spirituality is based on a single, supreme, otiose creator being who to them is known as Wende who animates the various aspects of the environment with his powers. Spiritually they are concerned with the control of supernatural forces which vitalize every aspect of their natural environment. They believe every person has a soul, sigha, which takes on the name of kyma after death.
Mossi masks, referred to as ouango or more recently as wango, are danced for a number of different ceremonies. In Mossi tradition, when a head of a household dies, they block the door of the house where he was lying and open another portal as an exit, to confuse the spirit if it tries to return. If is the death of an important tribal individual, a great funerary ceremony is held by the village, inviting all of the other villages in the region. The masqueraders or uoangos will dance, singing in a secret language, and it is believed that anyone who utters a word during this singing will die within the year. The Mossi masks are largely zoomorphic, full face masks and are kept in the shrine of the ancestral spirit they represent. They have a totemic role and are given libations when not worn in exchange for help in everyday life. The masks show regional differences, and are therefore classified in terms of the five styles named after Mossi kingdoms: Ouagadougou, Yatenga, Risiam, Kaya and Bulsa.
Mossi Risiam Mask
Mossi statues, representative of deceased chiefs, were carved too; standing on slightly bent legs, with their arms set apart from their bodies, with round heads and flattened faces. They were symbolically buried in place of the chiefs’ corpse during sumptuous ceremonies, while the actual corpse was secretly inhumed immediately after death.
The Mossi also carved fertility dolls, with abstract flattened faces, were given to newly circumcised girls.
African Masks:Barbier-mueller Collection ISBN:3-7913-2709-7
Tribal Art of Africa - Jaques-Baptiste Baquart ISBN:0-500-28231-5