History

Like all of West Africa, Burkina was inhabited quite early, particularly by hunter-gatherers in the north-western part of the country (12,000 to 5,000 B.C.), whose tools (scrapers, chisels and spears) were discovered in 1973. Farmers appear to have settled there between 3,600 and 2,600 B.C. and their vestiges suggest a relatively enduring settlement. The use of iron, ceramics and polished stone developed between 1,500 and 1,000 B.C., as did spiritual practices, exemplified by the remainders of burial mounds. Vestiges from the Dogons were discovered in center-north and north-west of the country. These people would eventually leave the region between the 15th and 16th centuries A.D. to settle in the cliffs of Bandiagara.

The first Bura archeological site was discovered in 1975, 150 kilometers north-west of Niamey in the Volta River delta in Niger, in the region controlled by the Songhaï Empire from the 7th to the 16th centuries. Terra cotta pieces such as heads, urns and pottery are found in abundance in this region.

Funeral urns in phallic forms were made to be placed in the tomb of their deceased amongst personal effects such as arrowheads, lances, clothing, teeth and bones. Some are very tall (80 centimeters) and are topped off with small heads giving them a Giacometti-like aspect. Then, a « baura » was put on the tomb with its opening looking the skies, exactly like our tombstones or burial plaques.

These were accompanied by pots, other urns and heads representing family members of the deceased, all in terra cotta. The Bura Asinda-Sikka heads are generally completely flat, and are characterized by their great simplicity and, in the majority of the cases, are decorated with raised bumps running the length of the piece.







Illustration: a very beautiful funerary pot in the shape of a phallus. The earthenware piece is finely decorated with a very short hairstyle and a prominent navel on the stomach. Burkina Faso, West Africa, height 50 cm. 1st century B.C.-1,000 A.D. Private collection.