Tiebele – Probably the Most Beautiful Village in Burkina Faso!
Tiébélé Burkinabé village with painted houses is a village in the south-western part of Burkina Faso, near the Ghanaian border. This remote and tranquil village attracts travellers with its unique and stunning painted houses that can be hardly seen elsewhere.
Burkina Faso is a West African country of many natural wonders and also a home of ethnically and culturally diverse communities. Each part of Burkina has its own places that take your breath away. Tiébélé village, home of Kassena people, is, no doubt, one of them.
Architecturally specific houses with wall paintings are typical for Kassena people who belong to the greater Gurunsi ethnic group, living in northern Ghana and southern Burkina Faso. Wall decorating or painting is an ancient practice, but is, unfortunately, nowadays rapidly disappearing.
In fact, there are only few families left in the village that still have their buildings freshly renovated – as I interpreted, mostly for the purposes of tourism, at least that.
Architecture of Traditional Kassena Houses in Tiébélé
Materials, used for building their houses used to be all natural: clay, straw, cow dung, wood etc. Nowadays, these materials are often replaced by the use of mud blocks.
The main purpose of highly architecturally sophisticated buildings in Tiébélé is to protect residents from enemies and hot climate. In past, tribal wars were not rare in this area so people started to build houses, surrounded by walls, with only one entrance to the courtyard.
Doors of each house are small with extra barrier inside which means that enemies could not see inside while people staying inside could watch their adversaries outside. If necessarily, people also hid themselves on the rooftop. For climbing up, they used a thin trunk, transformed into a ladder.
Nowadays, Tiébélé residents are using rooftops for drying grain. The sun in dry season is merciless, that is why houses have thick walls with barely any window. Kitchens are simple and small, since most of the cooking is anyway done outside the houses.
In the one courtyard, there usually stays extended family with many members. Traditionally, square houses are for families, round houses for bachelors and eight-shaped for elders. Houses have to be well protected, especially houses of children and elders, who are not able to defend.
Therefore, in the past, husbands and other mature men had the responsibility of protecting the whole family and defend themselves against potential enemies. Courtyard also consists of grain storage buildings and houses for animals.
Wall Paintings and Symbols of Tiebele Houses
Every painted house in Tiébélé village is unique. Wall painting is a community project done by local women. They use different local natural materials for colouring, from grounded earth to volcanic rock. At the very end varnish is used in order to extend the life expectancy of paintings. Still, because of rainy season, after few years decorations vanish so women usually renovate house exteriors every four years. Paintings are usually done after harvesting, between February and March.
Wall paintings in Tiébélé village have a very rich symbolism. Each painted house has many different geometrical and illustrative drawings. Many Kassena people are still practicing animism as their main religion. They believe that everything possess soul, even animals and plants and they worship them in different ways.
Every drawing has its own meaning, most often are: wisdom, fertility, friendship, leadership, afterlife, alliance etc. Here are soome of the drawings and their meanings:
- Stars and moon: sign of good and hope
- Semi-circle: calabash, one of the most important and used object in everyday life of Kassena people
- Arrows: defence, warriors
- Three-cross stitch: chicken for ritual sacrifices
- Crocodile and snake: sacred animals that keep away bad luck and diseases
On the first sight simple patterns, shapes or illustrations can have very interesting story behind. For example, a turtle in Kassena’s folklore has an important role. When a man sees a turtle, he has to keep it in a clay pot and bring it home and in one year he will meet his future wife.
Through cultural tourism, Kassena people are trying to generate and improve local economy. Although it is not very easy to reach the village of Tiébélé, it is totally worth it.