Friday, March 30, 2012

Artists Working with Bronze


One of the materials with which Burkinabè artists work is bronze. I checked out what bronze is supposed to be and it seems the term is used for any of a number of combinations of copper with other metals.  Originally I think it meant copper and tin, but there are a number of other combinations that are still referred to as bronze. There are several streets in Ouagadougou where you find collections of shops selling things made from bronze, and bronze figures of various types are found in the tourist gift shops around the country.

I had a chance to follow the making of a bronze figure from start to finish.  In this example, the artist, Mathias Kaboré, began by softening a lump of bees’ wax over a charcoal fire.
 Then he formed a model of a little elephant. 
 The next step was to make a mold into which the bronze would be poured.  To do this he mixed clay and donkey dung.
Then he covered the wax model with the clay mixture.
 Here is the model after several layers of clay have been added.
 After the clay has dried for several days, he and some of the other artisans built a small fire and put some molds they had made, including the little elephant, close to the coals.
A while later they poured out into a can the wax that had been the model, so it could be used again.  This method is called the lost wax method, because you lose the wax before you put the metal into the mold.
While the molds were heating, Matthew put some figures that had been cast that did not turn out right, some copper wire, and even an old door handle into a clay pot.
This hole is their forge, the place where they melt the metal
They filled the hole part way with charcoal, threw in some embers from the fire, and added the pot.  Then they covered all of it with more charcoal.
To get it hot, one of the fellows would sit in the shade of a trap and turn an old bicycle wheel. The belt around the wheel goes around a small axel in a fan that blows air into the forge.   
 They claim the temperature in the forge reaches 1000 degrees Celsius.  I didn’t have any way to check the temperature, but it sure was hot.
While the various metals were melting together in the forge, they built up a fire over and around the molds.  This was to get them hot so that they would not crack when the hot metal was poured into them.
Finally the metal was all melted together, and the clay pot was removed from the forge. They used a ladle to skim off the impurities like little pieces of charcoal, and them ladled the hot metal into the molds.
After only a short time (about 15 minutes), they broke off the clay to reveal the metal figures.
I had to go back another day to see the final step. This consists of scraping off any remaining clay and polishing the figure to a shine with a file as this artisan is doing to a lion he made.
Here is the little elephant that emerged from that clay mold, after it was polished.
Now let me introduce the men who showed me how this is done, posing with some of their creations.  I have listed the e-mail addresses of the two who gave them to me, in case anyone is interested in contacting them.

Mathias Kaboré, KAMAKA46@YAHOO.FR

Paul Zongo

Jean Baptiste Balima
Soumaida Kièmtoré

Nassirou Kièmtoré
Other Bronze Methods

There is a slight variation on this theme, if you want to make a lot of things that are very similar. You begin as Mathias did, above, but instead of covering your wax figure with clay, you cover it with plaster of Paris. Then, you cut through the mold to remove the wax figure.

Now you have a mold you can use over and over to make wax figures that you cover with clay, dry, bake out the wax, and fill with bronze, as you saw in my story above.  The virtue is that you do not have to model the figure each time.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Treasures From Trash and Batik Making

From Trash to Treasures

I have commented before on the problem of trash here. As I have pointed out, in the old days, anything you didn’t want could be tossed on the ground and, after a few months, it would biodegrade and become dirt.  With the introduction of plastic bags, along with plastic and metal containers, trash has become a problem, because these things do not biodegrade. Because of the custom of just throwing trash on the ground or over the wall of your courtyard, and the lack of any organized rubbish disposal, things can get pretty ugly.

One of the big contributors to the trash problem is the plastic bags merchants put things in when you make a purchase.  In Bobo there is a women’s organization that uses discarded plastic bags to make things. 
 First they go out and collect them from the streets and wash them.
 Then they cut them into narrow strips, twist the plastic so it is quite thin, and then weave it between black threads so it looks like this material the woman is cutting.
 Then they sew pieces together to create useful things..

 Here is their display room where you can see the many types of purses and bags they created from this material.  Once when I went there, there was even a jacket made from these recycled bags.  I am sorry that I did not take its picture!
 Many of the things I will show you here and in future blogs about arts and crafts were on display, and being made, at a place in the capital, Ouagadougou, called the Artisan Village. People have workshops here where you can see them making their products, and, of course, buy things. Here is a man making wooden boxes that he will cover with leather from a camel.
 The people who make this are originally from the desert regions of Burkina Faso and Mali.  Here are just a few of the kinds of boxes they make. 
Another craft is making things from horns of various animals.I believe these are from cattle.

Toys and other useful objects from Trash

Some of the things we saw used bottle caps to make various items.  How would you like earrings made from the bottle caps of your favorite beverage? (Shades of Luna Lovegood in Harry Potter?)
Or maybe a wastebasket, lamp or magazine rack decorated with bottle tops?
People also use discarded cans to created models of things like motorcycles,
and cameras.

Batik Making

I suspect you have seen batiks, and perhaps have even make them in art classes. Batik wall hangings are very common tourist items and I like them a lot.  I have several of them decorating my house as you may have seen in earlier blogs.  Here is how you make them.  You sketch out the design you want to make and cover most of it with wax.  You put the material in dye, and the parts that were not protected with wax pick up the color of the dye.  Here are some batiks in the making, drying after being in the red dye. 

When your work is dry, you iron out all the wax and cover all but the areas you want to be the next color with a new coat of wax. Here a man is protecting the sky (that he is painting black) in the background from the dye he is going to put the cloth in next. Some things in the picture may get several layers of dye to make a darker color.
One of the features of the batik process is that, when you put the material into the dye, the wax tends to crack along the fold lines, resulting in tiny lines in the parts that have been covered with wax throughout the dying, as you can see in this close-up picture. It is one of the signatures of the batik process.
After several repetitions of this process, you have the finished product.  Here are several examples, shown by their creators. 

Monday, March 19, 2012

Another Musical Adventure

First, a note about Camp G2LOW

Thanks to all of you who have generously contributed to support the Leo Camp G2LOW.  Our camp has reached our fund raising goal, but two of the other camps are still in need of support. If you were thinking about making a contribution, please consider donating to Camp Fafa where the Burkinabè have taken the lead in planning the camp. They do not have as many Peace Corps volunteers helping with fundraising from America. They have same purpose, to give a summer camp experience, leadership training, and education for a healthy life style to Burkinabè youth and any help will be appreciated.

Another musical adventure

Last Sunday my friend Nadine, one of the English teachers at the Lycée, told me that there was to be a musical performance that evening at the one “night club” in my little town, called Point Jeune.  It was the same place where the wedding reception was held I told you about in an earlier blog. She invited me to go with her.  We arrived at 7:30 for the 8:00 performance, not being sure whether there would be a big crowd or not.  There was not.  In fact, when we arrived, they told us that the poster advertising the event had been printed wrong and that the concert was to start at 9:00, not 8:00.  Rather than go home we went inside to have a Fanta and wait.  They had a big sound system blasting popular African dance music.  There were 5 or 6 boys about 10-12 years old dancing on the platform that serves as a stage.  They were interesting to watch. One of them was particularly good and a man who had also believed the advertisement, and was there early, watched them for a while and then tipped the one boy who was particularly good, asking him to dance some more.  One of the basic steps seemed to be shifting weight from toes to heels and back again, while turning the feet, thus moving sideways.  Another involved taking a stance with feet wide apart and then moving the knees toward and away from each other. Now that I have described them, I think they are a bit similar to some of the moves in American dances from the 1920s, but definitely with an African twist. Maybe that is where the Charleston came from. The boy who was especially good seemed to know all the selections being played and seemed to have routines worked out for each one, with hand gestures, pointing up or out, or touching the floor, punctuating the dance when there was an appropriate place in the music.  The music was blasting so loud that I stuffed kleenx into my ears to protect them a bit.  I wish I had thought to take my ear plugs! It seemed that each boy was dancing for himself and paid no attention to what the others were doing.

About 8:30 a rather large group of French people arrived en mass. I recognized a couple of the men as folks I had run into at the Lycée on Thursday.  They had been handing out little slips of  pink paper on which were a couple of coffins with people in them.  I was curious what it was all about so I introduced myself to them and asked them about it.  They said they were advertising a movie about AIDS that would be shown at Point Jeune that evening. There would be one in French, followed by the same one in Moore, the local language. I had not realized that they had a group of young people with them.  It turned out that the whole reason for the musical performer giving a concert was because this was the group’s last night in Burkina Faso after spending some time here going around the country presenting their AIDS program. The young people immediately took over the platform for dancing and the young local boys were shooed out by the manager. I don’t think they had paid admission and the manager had allowed them to come in to dance until the program got started.

The young French students, who looked to be late high school or early college age, danced in what I expect was a style Americans would recognize.  Several times they formed a loose circle and one by one people would go into the middle and do some move of their choice.  Others would then imitate that movement or step.  For other selections they seemed to know a particular set of movements to go with the song and everybody did the same thing (a bit like line dancing).  One song seemed to be something about elephants, and several of the young people waved an arm in front of their faces, like elephant trunks, each time that word came up in the song, and then joined hands in a line and ran in a circle.  Eventually the talked to the “disk jockey” who was selecting the music from a computer, and got him to play “It's Time for Africa,” a song you may have heard in the US. They had a whole dance routine worked out that was pretty impressive. The contrast between the “each boy for himself” style of the Burkinabè and the group interaction was interesting. It might be age, but I am inclined to think it is cultural. Or maybe it was because these young people were all friends who had just shared a big adventure and they were having a last fling before going home.

About 9:30 the management folks seemed to be getting ready to present the artist, but, instead, a Burkinabè and two of the boys in the French group took the stage, the Burkinabè with the African instrument called a kora, and the French boys with a violin and a clarinet. It was clear that the man had been working with them to try to find a way they could play together. 

After that, the French students took over the microphone, thanking the adults who had been with them on the trip and the manager of Point Jeune, and then they did their “It's Time for Africa” routine again. It was quite good, but the video I made of it did not come out.  Not enough light.

After some more adjustment of equipment, the featured performer finally took the stage about 10:15.  He played an amplified acoustical guitar and I could remove my improvised ear plugs and actually enjoy the music. He had a great singing voice and played very well, accompanying himself on all his numbers, although he occasionally had the computer guy play some pre-recorded backup tracks.  He did one number with the kora player, but otherwise it was a solo act. He sang in French until the French group left, because they had to be in Ouaga by 7 the next morning to get their plane, and then he switched to Moore.  I guess the lyrics in Moore were pretty amusing because most of the audience laughed and seemed to be enjoying the songs.  While he sung in French and Moore and I could not understand the words, the rhythm and basic style reminded me of 1960’s folk music.  He taught a call and response chorus to one of his songs to get the audience involved and encouraged people to sing along or clap with the music. About 11:30 Nadine and I made our exit because I had to be at the Lycée for a 7:00 class.  I was sorry they had not started the program a bit earlier because I really enjoyed his performance.  All in all it was an interesting evening and a different kind of Burkinabè music than I had heard before.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

International Women’s Day

International Women’s Day

Did you know that March 8 is International Women’s Day?  I did not, until I came to Burkina Faso.  Here it is a national holiday, with no school and with celebrations all over the country.  Last year our local festivities were canceled because of the civil unrest you may have heard about in the news.  This year I did get to go to see what happens at a Women’s Day celebration.

Pagnes for the event
First I should explain that there is a custom here for people here who want to show that they are “together” at a big event to wear clothes made from the same material.  As I have mentioned, you buy cloth in 2 yard lengths of 45 inch material referred to as a pagne.  You use the same word to talk about the pattern on the material. For example, here is a picture I took at a funeral I attended where many of the members of the deceased’s family wore clothes made from the same material—all those folks standing together wearing clothes made from the same pagne. I should mention that the woman actually died in January 2010 and the funeral was held in February 2012. That is a normal length of time between the internment and the funeral mass with the dedication of the tomb, which you see here.
Every year there is a theme for Women’s Day.  In 2010 it was literacy for women who did not learn to read in school.  There are classes here during the dry season where people can learn to read in their local language. People in my region learn to read Moore, and people in other parts of the country are taught to read Djula, Lobi, or one of the many other languages. It is easier to learn to read a language you already know than to learn a new language (French) and how to read at the same time. Here is the pagne for 2010.  It was intended to promote literacy training for women. The slogan around the circle would translate  “women’s literacy and informal education.”

Last year the theme was maternal health and lowering the maternal mortality rate.  Here is the pagne, and the slogan means “give life without dying.”

Here is this year’s pagne, which has the same theme, but has a different design for the pagne.

I had an outfit (skirt and blouse) made from the pagne by my neighbor Martine, Prosper’s wife. She is a seamstress and I will be telling you more about dressmaking here in another blog. 

About the Celebration 

We arrived about 9:00 AM because that was supposed to be the time the event would start.  After living here for nearly two years I was not surprised that they were not ready to start then.  I was ushered to a metal chair in a makeshift reviewing area that had shade provided by black plastic drop clothes tied to branches put into holes dug in the ground.  I was happy for the shade as the day got hotter.  In the front row was someone’s living room furniture, to provide nicer seating for the dignitaries.

About 9:30 the man who ran the sound system got it set up and a group of girls in school uniforms who were going to march in the event arrived. The sound man played typical African dance music, and people hung around the area, but it was clear things were not about to start.  At 10:00 the music changed to marching music and I thought the program would start soon.  Silly me! After about 10 minutes the music changed back to the dance music. At 11:00 there was a beeping of horns and a motorcade of several cars and a minibus arrived, lead by 15 or 20 motor cycles.  At the sound of the horns, people gathered around the area where things would be happening. A group of people got out of the vehicles and walked to the comfortable seating area.  Above, you see them settled in their places.  You can see that most of the women are in the pagne, but the man in gold, the mayor of the nearest big town, was not.

The Woman's Day Program

With the important people in place, things finally got underway.  The master of ceremonies was wearing a shirt of this year's pagne.  He greeted everyone in French and explained the program for the day, and then repeated everything in Moore so most folks could understand. They used an umbrella to provide shade for the speakers.

After the welcome and announcement of the program, the parade got underway.  There were a couple of groups of young girls, students at the elementary schools.  They appeared to have decided to wear pagne skirts made from hand woven traditional cloth and tops made from the red, white, and blue material that is the Burkina Faso Independence Day pagne.

Next came the high school girls wearing their school uniform skirts and blue t-shirts that I think had the name of the school on them.


After them came the women’s groups.  Some of the women carried the gifts to present to the dignitaries.  Here they are making the presentation, with other members of their group in the background. 

This was followed by several speeches.  This is the Imam of the town where the celebration was held, giving an opening prayer. Notice the two young women with the blue skirts (also called pagnes).

This is the president of the women’s association, saying her bit.  Notice the woman in green holding the recording device in front of them as they were talking.  She is one of the broadcasters from my local radio station and I am sure the speeches will be rebroadcast so everyone who was not there can listen to them.

There were several other speakers, and as each speaker rose to talk, two young women dressed in the traditional woven pagnes marched out to the center of the space with them.  This thing of having folks, usually beautiful young women, escort the important people is very traditional here.  Getting to be an escort is a great honor.  To share the responsibility, there were two pairs of women who took turns doing the escorting. Here is the other pair, with the MC.
All four wore the same very fancy hair dos. I took a picture of their hair because I was impressed with how it was fixed.

The big event was a skit illustrating the theme of the year.  It was all in Moore, but I could guess what most of it was about from the action.  It featured a woman who went to the maternity center for a pre natal checkup.  The midwife asked her to bring her husband for a consultation, but he refused to go and told her she could not go there again. When she gave birth at home she had a problem and her mother-in-law helped her get to the maternity center.  The problem was too serious for the midwife to handle and they called for an ambulance to take the woman to a hospital.  It was too late, and she died. The moral of the story was quite clear.

After a few more speeches I was invited to join the other people who had been seated on chairs and in the shade to have lunch at a nearby school.  I thought I would not know anyone there, but I met the secretary at the Lycée, and sat with her.  I also saw the principal of the school, the chief of a nearby village with whom I worked to get the village pump repaired, whom you can see below.
I also saw the assistant chief of police,(on the left in the picture) who came to me last year for information on farming and whom I was able to help with some information and tree seeds from Peace Corps. The other officer is the head of the Military Police in my town, who lets me leave my bicycle at the police station near the bus stop when I am traveling to a place where I do not want to have it with me.

There was to be a soccer match in the afternoon, but I decided I had seen the important event for Women’s Day and headed home.  I understand that the national celebration was on TV and folks could see the big event from home, if they happened to have a TV set.