Infobox Ethnic group
group = Bwa
population = 300,000
region1 = flagcountry|Burkina Faso
pop1 = 175,000
ref1 =
region2 = flagcountry|Mali
pop2 = 125,000
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languages = Buamu
religions = Animism (85%)
Christianity (10%)
Islam (5%)
related =
footnotes =
The Bwa or Bwaba (plural)Roy & Wheelock, p.50] are an ethnic group indigenous to central Burkina Faso and Mali. Their population is approximately 300,000. They are known for their use of masks, made from leaves or wood, used in performative rituals.


In the 18th century, Bwa lands were occupied by the Bamana empire who made the Bwa pay taxes.cite web
title = Bwa People
work = Art and Life in Africa Online
publisher = University of Iowa
date = 1998-11-03
url =
accessdate =2008-07-22
] The places left unconquered were raided by the Bamana, which led to a weakening of the Bwa social and political systems.cite web
title = African Art and the Bwa of Burkina Faso
publisher =
date = 2006
url =
accessdate =2008-07-25
] In the 19th century, the Bamana declined and the area was dominated by the Fulani who raided and enslaved the Bwa and stole their livestock. The end of the 19th century brought French mercenaries who used the Fulani to help control the area. The Bwa traditions of storing crops for use in lean years were undermined by the crippling taxation systems of the French and they suffered further from famine from 1911–1913.cite web
last = Roy
first = Christopher D.
title = Do in Leaves and Wood Among the Bobo and the Bwa
work = Art and Life in Africa Online
publisher = University of Iowa
url =
accessdate =
] The French demanded military recruits from the Bwa and in 1915, the Bwa revolted. This revolt lasted six months and ended with the destruction of many Bwa villages.


The Bwa live in central Burkina Faso and south-east Mali, between Mali's Bani River and the Mouhoun River (Black Volta) in Burkina Faso. Their total population is approximately 300, 000. The major towns occupied by the Bwa are Houndé, Boni, Bagassi, Dossi and Pa.

ociety and politics

Like many of their neighbours, the Bwa are predominantly farmers, their main cash crop beng cotton. They also farm millet, rice, sorghum, yams, and peanuts. Bwa villages are autonomous and they do not recognise any outside political authority. They are led by a council of male elders who make all the major descisions. Villages are structured with a cluster of mud walled buildings around a central space where livestock are guarded at night.



The Bwa speak Buamu, a central Gur language of the Volta-Congo branch.cite web
last = Gordon
first = Raymond G., Jr.
authorlink =
title = Buamu - A language of Burkina Faso
work =
publisher = Ethnologue
date = 2005
url =
accessdate =2008-07-25
] Some speak Jula (Dioula) for trading and communication with outsiders, and French is also used.

Religion and mythology

Most Bwa still retain traditional animist beliefs. Approximately 5% are Muslim, approximately 10% are Christian and approximately 85% are animists.

The creator god of the Bwa is known as Wuro, Difini or Dobweni. He created the world by setting his creations up in balanced opposing pairs (for example male and female, domesticated and wild). The Bwa have to work to maintain the balance. Wuro left the earth after being wounded by a woman pounding millet. He had three sons: Dwo (or Do), god of new life and rebirth; Soxo, god of the wilderness and Kwere, the god of lightning. Wuro sent Dwo, with his brothers, to earth as his messenger and manifestation.

The Bwa, (the northern Bwa in particular) worship Dwo as an intermediary between man and nature. The religious leader of each village is an earth priest called the "labie", the oldest man of the village. The congregation of Dwo is a strong cohesive force in Bwa villages. The Bwa share their Dwo religion with the neighbouring Bobo people, and probably acquired it from the Bobo centuries ago.Roy & Wheelock, p.53] In the late 19th century, following decades of oppression and misfortune, many southern Bwa villages abandoned the cult of Dwo and adopted the religion of their Nuna neighbours.


The Bwa are well known for their use of traditional tribal masks. The masks, made from wood and leaves, are used in traditional rituals. In particular the Southern Bwa are known for their tall plank masks, known as "nwantantay", and tend to use wood to make their masks. This is a result of their adoption of Nuna religion and their traditions of using wooden masks. The northern Bwa use leaf masks more than wooden ones. These leaf masks frequently represent Dwo in religious ceremonies. The masks also represent the bush spirits including serpents, monkeys, buffalo and hawks. Mask performances generally take place in the dry season between February and May.


Early European explorers to the area called the Bwa "Bobo", confusing them with their neighbours the Bobo people. Although the two groups share religion and culture, they are ethnically distinct. The confusion led to alternative names for the Bwa including Bobo Oule, or Eastern Bobo. [cite web
title = Ethnologue 14 report for Burkina Faso
publisher = Ethnologue
date = 2005
url =
accessdate =2008-07-25
] In Jula, Bobo Oule means "Red Bobo". This distinguishes the Bwa from the Bobo who are called the "Black Bobo". The southern Bwa became known by their neighbours as "Nieniegue" meaning "scarred Bwa" as a result of the tradition of scarification of their faces and bodies. This practice is no longer commonplace and so the term is also in decline.




*cite book
last = Roy
first = Christopher D.
authorlink =
coauthors = Thomas G. B. Wheelock
title = Land of the Flying Masks: Art and Culture in Burkina Faso
publisher = Prestel
date = 2007
location =
pages = 50–54
url =
isbn =3791335146

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