In southern Burkina Faso, a landlocked country in West Africa, near the border with Ghana, is a small circular village of about 1.2 hectares, called Tiébélé. These are the houses of the Kassena people, one of the oldest ethnic groups who settled on the territory of Burkina Faso in the 15th century. Tiébélé is known for its incredible traditional architecture Gourounsi and for the walls of its richly decorated houses.
Burkina Faso is a poor country even by West African standards, and it may be one of the poorest countries in the world. But it is culturally rich, and the walls of its decorated buildings form an important part of its cultural heritage in this part of the country. Decorations are a community project always carried out by women.
Photographer Rita Willaert has made a beautiful photo report where each house is a work of art.
The photographer went to Tiébélé in 2009 (see all photos of the village here). The village is very isolated and closed to foreigners, surely to ensure the conservation and integrity of their structures and protect local traditions. There is interest in developing the site as a cultural tourism destination in order to generate economic resources for conservation, but it is a delicate process.
A traveling blogger, Olga Stavrakis from also visited the site. She says:
… It was only through a process of lengthy negotiations that we were allowed to enter the royal palace whose entrance is represented here. The old men of the village, the nobility awaited us. They were all sitting waiting for us. Each village has Muslims and animists (local religions) and no one cares much about who believes in what. However, we were told in advance that we should not wear anything red and that we can not wear an umbrella or umbrella. Only the noble family is allowed to use this privilege and this would be a great affront to our guests …
A royal residence in West Africa is not what we could think of when we imagine royal palaces. In Tiébélé, the Royal Court is made up of a series of small mud brick structures, covered with natural clay paintings with intricate geometric patterns to differentiate them from the homes of ordinary people.
Olga and her group were even allowed to enter the structures and found that even in a palace, cooking is simple. The only difference from the rest of the kitchen in West Africa is the presence of extra clay and iron pots.
“Most meals are cooked in a pot on a fire pit,” says Olga, “There is little cutting and preparation. They usually make a starchy fudge or thick paste like porridge which is then soaked in a sauce of vegetables and peppers. The richest of the family uses the most sauce. The foufou is made of cassava, yam, plantain, corn.
Some of the most richly decorated houses are not really, but they are mausoleums for the dead, who rest in the same enclosure. The photograph of Rita Willaert below is an example of one of the mausoleums of the village.
Part of the art is symbolic or purely decorative – a result of the traditional know-how of the isolated Kassena culture.