The West African village where every house is a work of art



Burkina Faso in West Africa,  is not an area that usually gets a lot of visits of tourists, but at the base of a hill with a view of  the sunny savannah lies an extraordinary village, a circular 1.2 hectare complex of intricately embellished earthen architecture. It is the residence of the chief, the royal court and the nobility of the Kassena people, who first settled the region in the 15th century, making them one of the oldest ethnic groups in Burkina Faso.

 

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            Image: Rita Willaert

 

The village keeps itself extremely isolated and closed to outsiders, most likely to ensure the conservation and integrity of their structures and to protect the local traditions.  There is interest in developing the site as a cultural tourism destination to generate economic resources for conservation but it is a delicate process.

 

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Image: Rita Willaert

 

A royal residence in West Africa is not what we might think of when we imagine royal palaces. In Tiébélé, the Cour Royale is made up of a series of small mud brick structures inside a compound, covered with natural clay paints in elaborate geometric patterns to differentiate them from the homes of the common people.

 

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 Image: Rita Willaert

 

The chief’s house has the smallest door for protection –

 

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Image: Rita Willaert

 

The kitchen is simple, differing only from the rest of the kitchens in West Africa by the presence of a few extra clay and iron pots.

 

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 Image: Rita Willaert

 

Some of the most elaborately decorated houses however are not actually living quarters but mausoleums for the dead, who are laid to rest in the same compound.  The photograph by Rita Willaert below is an example of one of the village mausoleums.

 

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Image: Rita Willaert

 

Some of the art is symbolic while a lot of it is purely decoration– all a result of the traditional skills of the isolated Kassena culture.

Spiral –

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See dozens more photos of the village by Rita Willaert and read more about Olga’s account of her tour around the village on Travel with Olga

 

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