In the south of Burkina Faso near the border with Ghana lies a small village of about 1.2 hectares, called Tiébélé. This is home of the Kassena people, who are part of the wider ethnic group known as Gurunsi.
Kassena societies are made up mainly of farmers without social or political stratification. The group has no internal system of chiefs, and all important decisions were made by a council of elders consisting of the oldest members of each of the village lineages.
The village of Tiébélé is known for its amazing traditional Gurunsi architecture and intricately decorated walls of simple, man-made homes. The Kassena people build their houses entirely of local and natural material including soil, cow droppings and straw. Traditionally, the products were all mixed together to create the perfect plasticity which was used to shape surfaces. Today the Kassena people use a much more practical method of mud brick holding walls and large stone.
Though simple in structure, the houses are designed specifically to ward enemies and invaders. Following the construction, the Kassena women paint elaborate and highly intricate murals on the walls of the houses using coloured mud and white chalk.
The murals are inspired by every day life, religion or beliefs. The Kassena believe in a supreme creator and a shine to this god is usually seen in every village. An element of this creator god is ‘Su’, the mask spirit which is enshrined in the oldest and most sacred mask in the community.
The finished walls are then carefully burnished with stones and coated with a natural varnish made by boiling pods from the African locust bean tree. The designs also serve to protect the walls themselves as the decorating is usually done just before the rainy season to protect the outside walls from the rain.