Bwa Buffalo Masks: Unveiling Rituals, Symbolism, and Spiritual Significance in African Culture

Published: 2024-01-20
Bwa Buffalo Masks: Unveiling Rituals, Symbolism, and Spiritual Significance in African Culture
Type of paper:  Essay
Categories:  Culture Art
Pages: 4
Wordcount: 940 words
8 min read

The bush buffalo masks were discovered in the early to mid-1900s. The artwork was made of wood, plant fibers, and iron and plant fibers. The painting was formed in Africa, and western Sudan by the Bwa people. The artwork was a gift from Catherine C White in 1992, and its overall size is 69.8cm. The bush buffalo mask is used among the Bwa people (Christopher 40). The humans and animals dressed them, often representing the protective bush spirit. The horn, as well as the muzzle, identifies it as the bush buffalo. The masked people often appeared during initiation and ritual rites such as initiation, market day, and funerals. Other ceremonies that demanded the participant to wear the bush buffalo mask included the harvest celebrations and the annual renewal rituals to protect the community. While most people think that bush buffalo masks play an entertainment role alone, the masks were used to protect the family and clan.

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Regardless of the mask represented, it had the larger eye surrounding the centric circles, also referred to as the short snout for the animal mask. The mask was also covered with a geometric pattern with red, black, and white paint. However, some mask was surmounted by the tall plank. The head of every animal mask was typically similar in form. The shape of horns and ears identified the animals.

"Burkina Faso; Nuna artist. Buffalo mask. Photo by Christopher D. Roy."

The artwork mask found at the Cleveland Art Museum demonstrates various meanings. The mask's primary users are the Numa, Waniama, and the Leala tribes in the North and Numa in the South. The Sisala people also used masks; however, they have virtually disappeared. Among the Bwa groups, Nina has influenced the mask styles even in their neighborhood. The mask demonstrates the bush spirits or the spirits found in animal form. This kind of animal form tends to be more naturalistic, and the groups that use them, including the group of Lela and Waniama. The animals in this form are mostly buffalo, hornbill, antelope, bush pig serpent, and hyena. For instance, the spirit mask appears in animal form to protect the clan family and the community.

Additionally, the spirits also made sure that the clan protected the rules. The spirit also provides fertility and prosperity for the owners. Everyone who wears the mask has a different intention.

The mask's geometric patterning shows the scars that have been worn by both men and women in society. The prominent spot that shows an X or Cross on the middle of the central forehead represents struggle. The artwork has a voltaic motif of black and white keyboards, zigzag, curving lines, black, and white triangles, as well as lozenges. It's colored white, black, and red pigments. These signs are typically used in the Bwa community during the initiation period. The buffalo represents strength. The eyes may be black and all covered with beeswax. The black mask is also broad and short with elaborated geometric patterns—further the blank bear's sequence of downward curving hooks at the back and front. The plank's rectangular plan is divided by figures that link the plank with the head or to the other plank. The artwork has several parallel lines meditating from the eyes. Different type of masks is also won by diverse clans within these communities (Christopher 42).

After the death of the person who possesses the mask, the son inherits the mask or is placed in the lineage spirit house to decompose with time. After some time, the diviner might prescribe the new masks in a similar form or shape as the old one is replaced. All the masks are worn in diverse celebrations, especially the dry season; the dances are aimed to drive the evil spirits away from society for the community. The mask could only appear for a particular reason per year. The mask also marled the annual renewal of agricultural cycles or rituals. The ceremonies used to start a days period to the visitation of the masks (Petridis 28). The mask could visit the lineage residence beginning with the chief mask. Being the oldest son individuals of the first family, they are the first to receive the mask. The sacrifices were made of the ancestral shrines to purify the residents, accompanied by millet alcohol consumption. The blowing of flutes and dances were also involved in the celebration. After a closing ceremony, "the masks disappear for another three years at the end of the three days. However, they may make appearances in more limited numbers at funeral celebrations during the three-year interval for older members of the lineages involved". Some of the questions that can help me find more about the bush buffalo mask are what is the meaning of the mask? Why is the mask represented in the animal firm, and what is their myth of origin?


Conclusively, the artwork represents an essential meaning to the community of Africa. The artwork may not talk, but its form describes African religion and how the Sprint and gods watch and protect the community. Additionally, the colors of the artwork imply different initiation ceremonies for other clans. Bwa mask wearers believe in gods, and therefore, wearing the mask indicates that they are notoriously religious. The artwork is not only a form of entertainment but also represents the spirit that guided and directed the African people.

Work Cited

Christopher, Roy. "The Art of Burkina Faso "University of IOWA. 1947-2019:, accessed December, 3, 2020

Petridis, Constantine. "Buffalo helmets of Tussian and Siemu peoples of Burkina Faso." african arts 41.3 (2008): 26-43.

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Bwa Buffalo Masks: Unveiling Rituals, Symbolism, and Spiritual Significance in African Culture. (2024, Jan 20). Retrieved from

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