Les Éléphants

Last weekend we had the opportunity to visit the Deux Balés National Park. Thought to contain an elephant population of around 400 this 80,000 acre park is located on the outskirts of Boromo. Situated near the entranace to the park is the Campement du Kaïcedra.  This campement is an excellent spot for catching the elephants while they drink & bath. On Saturday afternoon we arrived at Kaïcedra just in time to catch a quick glimpse of a number of elephants before they all disappeared for the day. On Sunday morning we were luckier and between 9 and 12 there was a constant stream of elephants (mothers, babies & protective fathers) arriving at the watering hole.

During our visit we stayed at Sama Camp in Boromo. This is a really well run place with extremely accommodating hosts, great food and clean basic ventilated accommodation. For anyone looking for accommodation in the area I highly recommend it.

Here are some of my photos of the visit. I also took a couple of videos but unfortunately I am unable to upload them at the moment due to my slow internet connection.



Percussion forms the basis of music making in Burkina. Drums are used in daily life, to signal a journey or a return from the fields, to accompany mask dances and to codify secret languages solely understood by initiates. The war drum, sacred in royal households, symbolises power, raising the alarm at a time of attack and announcing significant events.


Considered the king of drums among the mossi, the bendré is also found in royal households. It is made from an enormous round calabash, lopped off at the top and covered with a goatskin to make the drum head. It can perform the function of a griot, with a complex pattern of rhythms recounting in a tapestry of beats the complete history of mossi kings, from mythological Ouedraogo right up to the present day. Click here, to get an idea of its sound.



The rabingo drum is similar to the Bendré, but made from clay, giving a lower, more booming sound.


The lunga is a long, thin cylindrical drum, with a head at both ends. Normally slung over the shoulder and played with a beating stick, it is popular amongst the Gourounsi as an accompaniment to mask dances.



The tam-tam is a much smaller drum, popular with griots, which can be tucked tight under the arm and is beaten vigorously with a curved stick to accompany verbal antics.


The largest drum is the gangago, a kind of cylindrical fat bass drum, covered at both ends.


The djembe is a popular upright drum. Made from wood and covered with goatskin, it is usually played on the ground and carries a recognisable fairly high-pitched sound. Click here to get an idea of its sound.



The following are links to videos containing examples of some of these drums being played.

Music in Burkina Faso

In Burkinabé society the function of musical instruments goes beyond the mere sounds they make. The instrument and its notes carry deep spiritual and cultural significance. Music forms a back drop to every important event in life: marriage, funerals, births, initiation ceremonies, prayers and many other celebrations. Combined with the oral input of griots (oral historians), music weaves a healthy dose of mythology and history.  Instruments are typically handmade and tend to differ according to region, made from local materials and accordingly to local know-how.

This week I will begin a series of posts highlighting some of the more common Burkinabé instruments.

Everyday Burkinabé Objects: The ubiquitous plastic teapots.

In West Africa you find these infamous colourful plastic teapots everywhere. Each household, restaurant, workplace and mosque has at least one & usually it’s a collection of these teapots. Given they are constructed in plastic they are obviously not used for making a pot of tea!  Their primary use is for hand-washing.  These teapots are filled with water and carried to the bathroom and used in lieu of toilet paper. They are also always provided by restaurant staff or hosts for cleansing before a meal. Needless to say people usually eat with their hands (actually right hand) here.  It is also not uncommon to see Muslims using these teapots to wash their face, arms and feet before commencing to pray.


In early October last year Helen, Natalie, Benoit and I headed to the south of Burkina to explore the Lobi country. We spent three days exploring the region of Gaoua and its surrounding districts.

The first afternoon we spent walking around Gaoua itself before visiting the Poni Museum. At the museum our guide Claire provided interesting insight into the life of the Lobi people – their beliefs, traditions such as naming conventions and the realities of child initiation ceremonies and female circumcision. See Helen’s post for a more detailed recap of this educational visit.

In front of the museum were a number of examples of Lobi style living quarters. Lobi architecture consists of houses constructed in mud and have only a single small entrance at the front. There is always a ladder that leads to the roof, which they use as both a terrace and somewhere to sleep during the hotter evenings. Interestingly only the chief of the household can give permission to enter the dwelling.

On day two we made our way to Burkina Faso’s only UNESCO World Heritage site, the Ruins of Orpheni. The ruins, which have been shown to be at least 1000 years old, are the best preserved Lobi fortress in the area. The ruins consist of primarily of the remains of the stone perimeter walls, which are up to six meters high. Within these walls are visible remains of the layout and divisions of the fortress’s internal structures.

After the ruins we made our way to visit a fetisher. This region of Burkina Faso is particularly well-known for its fetishers. While I am not 100% sure how to translate fetisher into English, I think it’s basically equivalent to witch doctor. Each fetisher usually has an extensive collections of fetishes. A fetish is a statue or object with magical power, usually to protect the users from evil spirits or to attempt to control one’s destiny. People go to see fetishers for a wide variety of reasons such as to wish for protection, health, prosperity etc. For each request a sacrifice (chicken, goat, sheep or cattle) according to the severity of the matter at hand is made. The highest type of sacrifice one can offer from what I understood is a dog (my apologies to all dog lovers/owners for highlighting this fact & I agree it’s not pleasant to imagine). Another thing not 100% pleasant was the visit to the small, dark, humid, blood & feather/fur covered, fetish filled room where the fetisher performs his rituals. While interesting to see, as Nathalie pointed out it was a little scary and had the air that we were in a horror movie. I have to agree with her here I felt the same about the experience.

On the third day we visited another couple of villages, Doudou and Gbombolora. In Doudou we had the opportunity to learn how the women of the village search for gold in the river. This is really painstaking work and in this particular village only the females are permitted do this. In Gbombolora we were warmly welcomed by the head of the village who was also a wonderful story-teller. He recounted the amazing history of his family; his father had been a famous elephant hunter and his grandfather who had somehow managed to have 39 wives and 174 children. See Helen’s post for a detailed account of the story of Mr D and his family.

Before getting on the bus to return to Bobo we finished the weekend with a visit to the central market in Gaoua. The market offered shoppers an extensive array of pottery and baskets as well as the standard array of foodstuffs, drinks and other assorted items usually found in the Burkinabe marketplaces.

Over the weekend we also had a couple of breakdowns, a regular and expected occurrence in Burkina given the state if the vehicles and the routes. The first was merely a flat tire and the second was when we came to grounding halt on our cross-country route returning from Gbombolora. We found ourselves lodged on a large rock hidden in the grass. Additionally, on our way to visit the fetisher we were stopped by the frontier police/military as we neared the border of the Ivory Coast. This was because our taxi driver had “forgotten” to stop and give our intentions to the gentlemanrie as required. Helen performed a wonderful what I would call “pièce de theatre” to luckily get us off with just a warning.

For other takes on our weekend check out Nathalie’s post in french and Benoit’s artistic take in both word and photo format. Some of my pictures of the weekend can also be found here.


One weekend in early November we were fortunate to have the opportunity to visit Banfora with friends, Stephan & Neusa and their two children Ulysse and Agathe. Banfora is a picturesque town set amongst an expanse of sugar cane fields about 1-1.5 hours away from Bobo-dioulasso. As it’s near the border of the Ivory Coast the region in general is a lot lusher than the majority of Burkina.

Over the weekend we went for a rickety wooden canoe (or pirogue) ride on Lake Tengrela, a lake known for its hippo herd. Unfortunately lake levels were too high (due to it being the end of the rainy season) for us to have any chance of spotting hippos that day.

We also spent a morning at the impressionable Domes of Fabedougou. These bulbous rock formations are thought to be around 1.8 billion years old. Interestingly apparently there is a geographically identical feature in Western Australia, the Bungle Bungle Range which draws thousands of tourists each year (unlike Burkina’s domes).

Photos of our visit to Banfora can be seen here and here.


One Sunday in October a group of us went to visit the village of Koumi, a small traditional Bobo village not far from Bobo-dioulasso. We were quite a large group of tourists, myself & Benoit, Helen (the trip was in her honour as it was her birthday), Eve, Simon & family and Neusa & her two children making us 12 in total.

In Koumi the houses are constructed banco style, using layers of red earth rather than mud bricks. These earth houses are made in, usually five, layers (or courses). The villagers are in fact banned from building with the more modern and more waterproof mud bricks. Sadly, as a result many of the earth brick houses have been left abandoned as villagers moved to housing areas without this restriction.

Another interesting facet of the visit was the scattering of mysterious holes on the outskirts of the village. These holes lead to women-only caves. Each family in the village has one and the women descend in order of seniority into these underground grottos to gossip, weave baskets, and pass on family secrets and traditions.

Photos of our visit to Koumi can be seen here and for an interesting French account of the visit see Simon’s post here.