Burkina Faso Society and Culture

Village communities, clans and families

Life in the village means living as part of an extended family. The principles of living together are largely archaic. With a few exceptions (e.g. Lobi) the family structure is patriarchal, polygamy and exogamy apply, ie the women in one village come from other villages (extended incest taboo). Further characteristics are an inner egalitarianism and the seniority principle. The ancestors, with whom a council of elders or the earth priest is connected, watch over the rules of living together. In particular, the vows of underage daughters and forced marriages have caused many conflicts with often fatal results in recent decades.

The whole family works in the fields, although women may also be able to cultivate their own fields. Women can top up their household allowances by trading in markets. They are responsible for the daily duties within the yard, while men are responsible for construction and public affairs.

Today there is at least one farmers’ self-help group in almost every village. Many women or youth groups are among them.

As a result of rural poverty and rural exodus, it is increasingly noticeable that villages are inhabited by the elderly and children, while the working-age population lives in the cities.

The rural tradition lives on with those who have long lived in the city. Even a Mossi who has worked in Abidjan for decades fears his family’s ancestors there. Anyone who thinks they can break away from the old tradition will be overtaken by it. Because he remains an element in the taboo world of his family.

Hierarchies and castes

An elected “Délégué” or “Conseiller” represents the village to the prefect of the department, gives him an account of what is going on in the village and has executive power.

An elder or earth priest, on the other hand, has sacred power. It also regulates disputes and makes decisions about land use. The earth priesthood is inherited.
In some places there are still feudal families, the so-called Chefferie traditionnelle. While in Sankara’s time the influence of the traditional authorities was pushed back in favor of the young CDR representatives, in Compaoré’s time the ruling CDP party exploited the reputation of traditional authorities for their election results. During the transition period under Kafando, a new dispute arose over the extent to which traditional bosses were allowed to be partisans with political organizations.

To this day there are socio-professional groups in rural areas of Burkina Faso who all bear the hallmarks of a caste. This is especially true for blacksmiths in Yatenga or Griots in the southwest or with the Fulbe. The “we-feeling” as a caste is more pronounced in blacksmiths in the north of Burkina Faso than the ethnic affiliation. As rulers of lightning, fire and metal, they are ascribed magical abilities. They are rejected, feared, respected and used by peasant society at the same time. Giving a blacksmith a chicken can potentially ward off calamity. Ceramic vessels are only allowed to be made by the women of the blacksmith.


Visual arts

The sculptor Jean-Luc Bambara is known among the artists for his exhibitions in Europe. He was also involved in the creation of the sculpture park in Laongo together with Siriki Ky. Adama Pacode (born 1970) is known for his assemblages in which he describes myths and rites as living forces. Still young painters are Christophe Sawadogo, Fernand Nonkouni, Jean-Didier Yanogo, Sama, Mahamoudou Zinkoné (“naive” painting), Salimata Kaboré, Kader Boly and Inoussa Simporé.

In her zoomorphic depictions of humans, Suzanne Ouédraogo deals with the processing of issues such as circumcision, birth, nature, wildness and equality. Animals are the medium of the veterinarian’s daughter. “Man can be more animal than the animal.” In 2009 she was honored as “Femme d´or de peinture”. Suzanne Ouédraogo works closely with Marie-Blanche Ouédraogo.


In Burkina Faso, literature began with the writing down of ancient myths and legends. However, literary history only began after independence with the work of Nazi Boni (1909-1969) ” Crépuscule des temps anciens ” from 1962. It is about the confrontation of traditional values ​​with the prevailing colonialism. The book is also a chronicle of the history of his tribe, the Bwamu (Bwaba). Like bonuses, Roger Nikiema, Pierre Dabiré and Maître Titinga Frédéric Pacéré were writers from the Négritude influenced, not to forget Joseph Ki-Zerbo (“The History of Black Africa”). Monique Ilboudo (lawyer, politician, novelist), Bernadette Sanou and Sophie Heidi Kam (born 1968, poet and dramaturge) have recently appeared as writers. The seemingly esoteric autobiography “Of the Spirit of Africa – The Life of an African Shaman” (Original: “Of water and the spirit”) by Malidoma Patrice Somé, who has been a professor in the USA for a long time, also deals with tradition and colonialism. His book leads into secrets of the magical world of the Dagara. Somé was kidnapped at the age of 6 by a French priest and raised in a Jesuit school.

Contemporary poets also include Jacques Boureimane Guegane and Patrick Couldiaty.

Justin Stanislas Drabo is the winner of the “Grand Prix Nationale des Arts et des Lettres”. At the SNC 2016 he received the 1st prize for poetry for “Les terres amères”. In 2014 he received the 1st literature / theater prize for his drama: “La république en jupon”. At the SNC 2012, his work “Les Confessions d’une muette” was awarded first prize in the literature / novella category.

His work “Le Fruit béni du péché” was nominated at the 2013 Francophonie Games in Nice. At the Recréâtrale 2014 he presented his piece “L´autopsie”. The play was awarded the prize for the best Burkinabe theater text.
The piece “L´Ingérence”,presented in the presence of the author in German (“interference”) at the africologneFESTIVAL.

Drabo also writes poems and lyrics to which he composes the music. His poems include ” Identité ” and ” Les proses roses sur une tombe “, a homage to Thomas Sankara.

Burkina Faso Culture