Mossi Zazaigo Antelope Headdress
- Tribe: Mossi
- Origin: Burkina Faso / Upper Volta
- Approx Age: 1970 -80s maybe later
- Materials: wood, cloth, cowrie shells, plaited fibre
- Dimensions cm: 44 tall x 28 front to back
- Ref. Number: 0911
A wonderful styled Mossi Zazaigo headdress from Burkina Faso, purchased from a French gallery. usual refinement with the use of the antelope but incorporating the Karanga style plank mask to the rear.plaited braids and cowrie shell adornments and a cloth hat which covers the main structure. The beak protrusion at the front of the headdress is nicely patinated as is the inside where it would be worn on the head.
The zazaigo (plural, zazaido) headdress, used by Mossi associations of young men, functions mainly to honour deceased members of the community during kuré funeral ceremonies, held during dry seasons when farming activities are halted. The role of the zazaigo masquerade is to communicate with the spirits of ancestors to let them know that the deceased community member was an honourable man and should be allowed to pass through to the realm of the spirits.
The Mossi believe that animal heads represent protective spirit animals that watch over and protect the community from evil forces. As such, zazaidoheaddresses can represent a number of different animals including:
- Roan antelope (wid-pelego)
- Red bush antelope or duiker (nyaka)
- Wild duck (laidri)
- Rooster (noraogo)
- Songbird (liuli)
- Human (nineda)
NOTE: “The headdress takes its name from the smaller animal that faces the rear when the crest is worn. Thus, the zazaigo with a roan antelope on the front and a nyaka on the back is called zazaig-nyaka.
Description written by Adenike Cosgrove
Zazaido dance groups have eight to twelve dancers who form a circle, then, to the musical accompaniment of drums, flutes and iron gongs, dance together in a line in a formal pattern of steps mimicking those of the antelope. The groups perform at nakomsé celebrations and funerals. (from “Land of the flying masks” by Christopher D. Roy and Thomas G.B. Wheelock)
The Mossi masks that are today produced in greatest numbers and that are most readily recognised by most Burkinabé have frequently been misattributed by Western art historians to peoples other than the Mossi, usually to the Bobo.
Although published descriptions of Ouagadougou Style masks are rare, they occur in the earliest descriptions of the Mossi. Lieutenant Marc, in his thesis on the Mossi, writes:
“The `Ouangos’ are dancers whose costume is made up of a large robe fabricated of fibres covering the entire body, and surmounted by a wooden mask painted red and black, representing, most frequently, the head of an animal. The masks that are used by the Mossi in the traditional kingdom of Ouagadougou southwest of the White Volta River, are small, wooden, animal masks, worn over the face or as crests on top of the head, or slanting on the forehead. They are decorated with geometric patterns burned into the wood and painted dark earth red, black, and matte white… The masks of the `Ouangos’ are constructed in the greatest secrecy. They must be made from just one piece of wood, and the carver must not be seen before the work is completed”
Masks from the southwestern Ouagadougou style area are heavily decorated with geometric shapes outlined with “poker-work” and coloured red and white with flat-finish, mineral based pigments. Spiral markings on horns and broad geometric shapes are blackened with heated metal blades. The most commonly used shapes are rectangles sectioned by diagonals with alternating sections painted red and white, and alternating red and white triangles .
All traditional Mossi masks are provided with holes that permit the attachment of a fiber costume, but in the southwest there are no other provisions for straps, cords, bars of wood, or other means by which the masks might be firmly attached to the wearer’s head. The masks are simply draped over the wearer, perched on top of the head with the heavy costume falling on all sides and holding the mask securely in place by its weight alone.
Small, red, white, and black animal masks in the Ouagadougou style are used in the Mossi regions southwest of the valley of the White Volta River. In this area, the limits of Mossi occupation are defined by a dramatic drop in elevation from the higher, more open Mossi Plateau to the lower, moister areas occupied by older peoples. In the region south of Manga, where the Red and White Volta rivers approach and eventually join, the low areas were very sparsely inhabited because of endemic onchocerciasis (river blindness) that blinded the population after long exposure, and which has only recently been eradicated by the use of insecticides.
BY CHRISTOPHER D. ROY
UNIVERSITY OF IOWA