Bobo Tribe of Africa

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Location: Western Burkina Faso, Mali - Africa

Population: 110,000

Language: Bobo (Mande)

Neighboring Peoples: Senufo, Bamana, Lobi, and Bwa

Types of Art: Masks fashioned from leaf, fiber, cloth, and wood are usually worn with leaf and fiber costumes. The major context is men's initiation.

History: The Bobo have lived in the region for centuries, with some estimates dating back to 800 A.D. It is generally believed that they moved into this area from the north. One of the primary reasons for this thinking is that they speak a language considered to be part of the Mande family, which originates to the north in Mali. Throughout the history of the region, other peoples, like the Zara, have also moved into the area, influencing the Bobo and sometimes being either partially or wholly absorbed into Bobo agricultural society.

Economy: Farming among the Bobo is of primary importance. Agricultural activity is not merely a way of providing for subsistence among the Bobo, it is the essential component of their day-to-day existence. The major food crops are red sorghum, pearl millet, yams, and maize. They also cultivate cotton, which is sold to textile mills in Koudougou. The imposition of colonial rule and the construction of these mills led to the disintegration of the local cooperative labor systems, which had served to bond the members of Bobo society together.

Political Systems: The Bobo are an inherently decentralized African people. Each village is basically autonomous and is organized according to the relationship among individual patrilineages. The concept of placing political power in the hands of an individual is foreign to the Bobo, whose cosmologic views would be seriously questioned by the existence of such an order.

Religion: The creator god of the Bobo is Wuro, who is never physically represented and cannot be described in words. Wuro is responsible for the ordering of all things in the world into pairs, which must always remain balanced. However, man, through his everyday existence, is likely to upset this balance. Thus, the Bobo religious system involves restoring order through a series of offerings. The main god responsible for communication between man and Wuro is Dwo, who is physically revealed through the extensive masking traditions of the Bobo.

Credits:  Christopher D. Roy also see credit page
Professor of the History of Art
The University of Iowa