Remember when you were young and your parents would never let you color on the walls? Well, in the village of Tiébélé in western Africa, the Kassena people are able to do just that! They decorate their homes by painting intricate designs on the exterior walls of their mud brick houses. Actually, it’s really only the women that get the privilege of decorating the walls.
It’s quite the event, as the women of the tribe gather together and mix clay to reinforce the outer wall, crush different colored stones to mix with water and clay to use as paint, and paint the walls together with their hands and small tools. Once they’ve covered the exterior of the house with symbols, motifs, and geometric designs, they finish it over with a natural varnish.
The insides of the houses are much less intricate. The simple kitchens consist of only a few pots, a brazier to cook over, and some tools. The doors are small to offer protection, and there are barely any windows. These houses were clearly built with defense and protection as a priority. Even though Tiébélé is a royal village, their lives are just as simple as the common people. The only real noticeable difference, other than social and noble ranking, is the painting and decoration on the outer walls of the houses. Some of the similarly painted structures are actually mausoleums to house the dead.
The village of Tiébélé lies in the south of Burkina Faso, near Ghana. It’s a small village, with a land area of only 1.2 hectares, but also an important one because the residents are the royal members of the Kassena people, one of the oldest ethnic groups in Burkina Faso. It is a very difficult place to get to because the Kassena people wish to remain isolated from outside influences and preserve their own buildings and traditions. They believe modernity is a threat to their culture, and so prefer to keep to themselves as much as they can and limit their visitors. It takes a long process of negotiations to be admitted into the village.
While it may be difficult at best to visit this village, it is worth noting the beauty and simplicity of these houses. They combine art and culture with architecture, and turn painting the houses into a day-long community event. Even the paint and varnish helps to protect the house by serving as a shield against the rain. The Kassena people use the resources that they have well, and it seems they have fun doing it.
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