Thursday, May 04, 2006
We didn’t put any honey on our tires. That was the first problem, right there. What was I thinking? Our trip was doomed from the start. To be fair, I should admit that vengeful Winyé bush fairies are usually only held responsible for road accidents. But I now suspect that they were bitter that I didn’t make sure they got their traditional honey offering and so they conspired to make me as miserable as possible.
The idea was for me to escort a small group of people out to see the mask festival in the region where JP works. In fact, he’s the person that began the whole thing five years ago and is still the main organizer. So, it’s fun for people to come out to see it and learn about the masks from someone who has worked in the area for nearly 30 years. I had a couple of US Embassy people with me, as well as a World Bank buddy. JP was already in Boromo getting things ready.
Everything seemed great as we sped down Burkina’s main east-west highway. Up in front they had Jennifer’s I-pod hooked up and we had a very intense “Bohemian Rhapsody” sing-along, complete with excellent air-guitar by Tim.
We got to the little village of Siby by 10 and no masks were in sight. I’d counted on too much travel time. Jennifer drives faster than I let my chauffeur go on the roads here. Plus, I usually get a flat tire, then one of the kids has to throw up, then the motor makes “funny” noises that have to be investigated. In short, it takes me abnormal amounts of time to get anywhere. As a result, we were early for the mask dance. But after just a few minutes, JP and his crew showed up. So, we all settled down to wait. The theory is that if “important” guests are waiting, it speeds up the process. Right. Due to unspecified problems, it didn’t start until 12:30.
It was desperately hot, but we had kindly been given comfy armchairs in the shade. I think the guests had a good time asking JP all kinds of questions about what they would be seeing. But I was very relieved to finally hear the distant drumming and flutes that mean that the mask dancers are approaching the dance floor. They have to put on their costumes out in the bush and must walk about a mile to get into the village.
As the masks enter the large, dusty dance floor, they look amazing. The masks are very big and bold, most featuring strong geometric designs of back, white and red. The costumes cover the dancers from head to foot with bushy hibiscus plant fibers. It looks strangely like fur and gives their bodies a sort of eerie volume. When they first arrive, the masks circle the dance floor slowly. You start to forget that there are people inside there.
Soon, they settle into position at the edge of the dance floor. Mostly they sit, but some of the larger masks lay down to rest themselves . The masks tend to be very heavy and the costumes are stifling, so they have to conserve their strength. Some will sit there for one or two hours, waiting for their dance rhythm to be played by the drummers.
The youngest dancers are usually called out to dance first. So, as you can predict, the first section of the dance was pretty weak. But it only lasted an hour and it was already time for lunch. JP had warned me that there were lots of VIPs present, so we might not get invited to the official lunch over at the schoolhouse. I thought that not getting invited sounded great! I was looking forward to going over to the hotel in Boromo, having a shower, and then spending about an hour in front of a fast-moving fan. It was too hot to eat, anyway. But no such luck. We were duly escorted into the oven-like one-room schoolhouse. We sat on benches, baking nicely under its metal roof. I skipped the meal of rice and tô (the national dish of Burkina) but I did have some dolo in a little gourd bowl. The traditional millet beer is a “must” at all village events in Burkina and it’s good form to accept it if offered. It’s always warm and a bit sour, but not as bad as you might think.
And now you will have to wait a day or two for Part II of my story. So, far this just seems like a nice, uneventful trip to the village. Surprises are in store.