Saturday, February 4, 2012

Village of Painted Houses

If you want to know the names of those mystery birds in the last blog, check it out again.  I received lots of suggestions and I think they are now all properly labeled.


One of the tourist sites I was able to visit while I was traveling with my friend from John Carroll, Elizabeth Swenson, was a village that is famous for the way folks there paint their houses. Everywhere else in the country traditional houses are made of mud brick, like this one that is currently under construction in my village.

 After it is finished, the people will cover the walls with clay to form a protective coating so the mud does not wash away in the rainy season, so it looks like this.

Sometimes people mix concrete with the mud and for concrete blocks, like this. 

Either kind of construction can then be covered with mud and concrete mixed together for a longer lasting covering. In either case, the walls as usually left the color of the material with which it was constructed. What makes Tiebele different is the designs the women paint on the houses. The place that is the official tourist site is the compound of the village chief. I have no idea how many people live here, but I would guess over 100. Here is the entry to the compound.

When you walk through the compound you can see that there really are people who live here and it is not just to show to tourists.  Actually there are probably not enough tourists who find their way to this town to keep up a place just for show.

Many of the houses are round, like these.
This is the one house that is set up to show tourists.  This low rounded door is a defensive measure.  Through it you can see another low wall.  To get into the house you have to duck down crawl in. Then you have to crawl over the little wall.  That would make it hard to surprise people in the house.  Someone would be able to club you on the head before you could get in and do any damage to the residents. 

In the house we were allowed to visit there were three round rooms.  In this one you could cook in the rainy season or when the wind was too strong to cook outside.  The gourds hanging on the wall above the place to build a fire would act as cups and bowls to eat out of.

The doors to get from room to room were similar to the one to enter the house, except there was not the extra barrier to crawl over.

Here is the door to another round house. Notice the column by the door with the white stuff on top. That is a fetish, a place where people can make sacrifices if they are asking the powers in the traditional religion to do something, like make it rain, or assure the harvest is good.

No all the houses are round, as you can see in this picture.  Notice the snake made of clay that is part of the decoration on the one straight ahead here.

One of the women was making local beer from sorghum. The beer in my village is yellow, but this beer would be red, because of the kind of grain that was used to make it.

The decoration of the walls is a job for the women. They use the feathers of the pentards to do the painting.

All of the designs have some meaning, which our guide explained to us.  Some stand for  particular animals, and he told us that the mark that looks a bit like a wagon wheel is a beauty mark that you might find as a scar on the cheek of a village woman. Traditionally people here cut babies faces with particular scar patterns which helped identify the ethnic group to which a person belonged.  For example, if I see a man with three small lines by his eyes, as with my friend Prosper, I know that that man is a Mossi and will understand Moore. 

As our guide said, facial scaring was a kind of identity card in the traditional culture.  This kind of scarification is not practiced as much these days as it was in the past. You do sometimes see marks on babies’ faces, but usually it is a simply X on a cheek.  A Peace Corps volunteer friend told me that many people believe that if the baby is flawless, the spirits may want the baby and it will die.  Putting a scar on the face assures that the baby has a flaw and that may protect it.

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