In the south of Burkina Faso, a landlocked country in West Africa, near the border with Ghana lies a small, circular village of about 1.2 hectares, called Tiébélé. This is the home of the Kassena people, one of the oldest ethnic groups that had settled in the territory of Burkina Faso in the 15th century. Tiébélé is known for its amazing traditional Gourounsi architecture and elaborately decorated walls of their homes.
Burkina Faso is a poor country, even by West African standards, and possibly the poorest in the world. But they are culturally rich, and decorating the walls of their buildings is an important part of their cultural legacy in this area of the country. Wall decorating is always a community project done by women.
The Kassena people build their houses entirely of local materials: earth, wood, and straw. Soil mixed with straw and cow dung is moistened to a state of perfect plasticity, to shape almost vertical surfaces. Today this technique is replaced by the use of mud brick molding walls with foundations resting on a large stone. Tiébélé’s houses are built with defense in mind, whether that be against the climate or potential enemies. Walls are over a foot thick and the homes are designed without windows except for a small opening or two to let just enough light in to see. Front doors are only about two feet tall, which keeps the sun out and makes enemies difficult to strike. Roofs are protected with wood ladders that are easily retracted and the local beer (dolo) is brewed at home.
The most amazing feature, however, is the intricate ornamentation that covers almost every square inch of the dwellings, painted with colored mud
and chalk that tell an expressive story of the ancient tribe’s culture. the motifs can illustrate just about anything from objects used in normal daily life, to religion and beliefs, to decorative patterns that distinguish one house from the other. the artwork is then embossed with rocks and etchings that
highlight the designs and give a truly unique character. the material, along with small openings usually located closer to the ground assist in comfortable interior temperatures