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date: 22 October 2019

Bwa and Gurunsilocked

  • Christopher D. Roy


Group of Voltaic-speaking peoples living in Burkina Faso and Mali. There has been much confusion in literature about the identity of these peoples and the relations between them. They are discussed together in this entry because of the similarity of their art forms. Ideally, however, their traditions should be discussed separately and the pseudo-ethnonym ‘Gurunsi’ abandoned.

The Gurunsi, who live between the Red Volta and Black Volta rivers in the centre of the country, are the most prolific and influential sculptors in Burkina Faso. They have also heavily influenced the mask traditions of their neighbours to the west, the southern Bwa, who carve the largest wooden masks in Black Africa.

The name ‘Gurunsi’ is a pejorative name applied by the neighbouring Mossi to a number of peoples who call themselves Nunuma, Nuna, Winiama, Lela, Sisala and Kasena and who together number c. 200,000. Their lands are sparsely inhabited, with large areas of dry, uncultivated bush separating small villages. Their major crops are millet, sorghum and maize. Their political systems are very democratic, with all decisions made by a council of male elders, in contrast to the stratified, centralized kingship system of the Mossi. Most Gurunsi retain no traditions of immigration into the area and claim to be the first inhabitants of the land. The ...

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