Catalogue 15

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Nuna or Winiama people, Burkina Faso
20th century
Wood; 11 x 2 3/16 x 1 3/8 inches (28 x 5.5 x 3.5 cm)
Collection of Allen and Barbara Davis

The Nuna (Nunuma) and Winiama are agriculturalists who live in the southern region of Burkina Faso that borders on Ghana. Their ancestors migrated to the area from northern Ghana prior to the fifteenth-century arrival of the Mossi’s ancestors to the area. The Mossi call them collectively Gurunsi, a term that the people themselves find derogatory, but that is pervasive in older ethnographies and even today in much of the art literature.

In addition to Nuna and Winiama masks, anthropomorphic figures sculpted from clay and wood and various personal objects, including jewelry, wooden stools, and spoons, are created to honor certain spirits. This elegantly carved wooden spoon is decorated with the finely wrought head of a large koba antelope (koan). The bowl of the spoon is concave, with the joint of bowl and handle near the center of the back of the bowl. These decorative spoons are used in the household to ladle sauce over steamed millet. A treasured spoon might be kept by the family as a memento, and if no longer used it might eventually take on a dark patina from the smoke of the kitchen fires. Spoons in use would be washed and rubbed with sand so they are a clean, natural wood color.

Many masks represent recognizable animals, such as the koba antelope. But even though the mask may resemble a particular animal, it is considered to be a bush spirit. Benevolent spirits act as intermediaries between the creator God and the community and as protectors. The antelope image on this spoon depicts a spirit mask and like the mask serves a protective function by keeping the household safe from poisoning.



Baldry, David A. T. 1993. “Cuillers, masques et chaises: Les formes traditionnelles des cuillers et leurs relations avec les masques et les chaises: des exemples au Burkina Faso.” In Creer en Afrique: 2e colloque européen sur les arts d'Afrique noire, Paris, les 23–24 octobre 1993 au Musée national des arts d’Afrique et d’Océanie, 47–58. Arnouville: Arts d’Afrique noire.

Roy, Christopher D. 1985. Art and Life in Africa: Selections from the Stanley Collection. Iowa City: University of Iowa Museum of Art.

Roy, Christopher D., and Thomas G. B. Wheelock. 2007. Land of the Flying Masks: Art and Culture in Burkina Faso; The Thomas Wheelock Collection. Munich: Prestel.