Burkina Faso recently held the 13th International Festival of Masks and the Arts, where its city of Dedougou presented a wide array of more than 500 masquerades displaying West Africa’s rich traditional cultures and beliefs.
Historically, the display of masquerades was one of Africa’s most-celebrated events and festivals until recent times when modern religion succeeded in having the tradition suppressed under accusations of paganism and heathenism.
The West African nation’s masquerades — coming in various forms of brightly colored animals to fearful looking monsters — attracted more than 100,000 Africans and foreigners converging at a stadium away from the economic capital of Ouagadougou.
“Festima is a good way for the organizers to make sure younger generations actually know what the masks are all about. There’s a lot of masks in Burkina, but they tend to disappear in some areas because of religion,” University College London Anthropologist Laurence Douny remarked.
The performance of masquerades in Africa is a cultural act that encompasses hundreds of cultures from Sub-Saharan Africa. In fact, West Africa is best noted for the use of masquerades and is one of the main channels of information to ancestors.
Masquerades’ shapes and designs, which often take the form of animals, are documented to be used in contacting animal gods in order to encourage the fertility of the land and the driving away of hunger.
They have also been used in the driving away of evil spirits.
Here is a collection of some outstanding masquerades by Photojournalist Thomas Page of CNN: