Burkina Faso, formerly Upper Volta, lies north of Ghana in western Africa. This landlocked former French colony, which has a population of about 17 million as of 2013, lacks a modern infrastructure, but it packs plenty of interesting culture. Burkina Faso finds its identity in cultural diversity – the name of the country itself derives from no less than three different languages, a striking symbol of cultural unity.
Extreme diversity defines the cultural landscape in Burkina Faso, as more than 60 distinct ethnic groups share the country. Half of the country's population identify with the Mossi, a Moore-speaking culture with states in Burkina Faso dating back to the early 1300s. Roughly 8 percent of people in Burkina Faso are Fulani, the second-largest segment of the population. This tribal, nomadic culture traces its roots back thousands of years and was partially responsible for the spread of the Islam throughout western Africa. Other major cultural and ethnic groups include the Gurunsi, Senufo, Lobi, Bobo and Mande. Because of this diversity, intermixing and cultural tolerance are the norm in Burkina Faso.
Most Fulani, and about half of the Burkinabe population in general, follow Islam to some degree of orthodoxy. In Fulani culture, the wealthy tend to follow religion more closely than the poorer and more secular members of the population. About 10 to 15 percent of Burkinabes are Christians, mostly Catholic, while about 40 percent of the country believes in traditional spirituality. Traditional Mossi and west African religion revolves around a “High God,” who serves as the creator of the universe but does not intervene in day-to-day life. These beliefs focus more on lesser supernatural powers that have a hand in daily life, chiefly in the areas of rainfall and soil fertility. Mossi religion also focuses on ancestry, as family members who have passed on are thought to influence the success of their living descendants. Other native Burkinabe cultures hold traditional spiritual beliefs such as animism.
Traditionally, the sociopolitical beliefs of the Mossi and Fulani revolved around patriarchal clans, with ruling positions awarded based on lineage or competition. A secular, parliamentary republic governs modern Burkina Faso. This young democracy's constitution established a semi-presidential government in 1991. The Burkinabe government is a strong patron of the arts, and continues to develop its educational efforts.
The Arts in Burkina Faso
The Burkinabe culture has a strong passion for the arts, specifically film. The country's filmmaking industry dates back to the 1960s, and its capital, Ouagadougou, is a central location for African filmmaking. Each year, the city hosts the major media event, Festival Panafrican du Cinema et de la Television de Ouagadougou, or FESPACO. Burkinabe people are also passionate equestrians – some local myths attribute the creation of the country to the arrival of a princess on horseback – and musicians, with common instruments including the stringed kora, djembe drums, baorgo horns and the xylophone-like balafon.
- U.S. Department of State: Travel.State.gov: Burkina Faso: Country Specific Information
- Our Africa: Burkina Faso: People and Culture
- University of California Los Angeles College of Letters and Sciences, Division of Social Sciences: Mossi
- The University of Iowa: Fulani Information
- World Missionary Atlas Project: Burkina Faso: Snapshots Section
- WPA Pool/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images