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.