Written by Gaëlle Feur in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso.
On Friday, the 14th of March, 2014, we woke up early for a morning a bit particular. At around 8:00 am every Friday, the traditionnal Mossi King of Kings (one of the largest ethnic group of Burkina Faso) steps out of his palace in order to commemorate a famous event that happened 4 centuries ago. The legend says that the « Mogho Naaba » as he is known by his people, left his palace dressed in red, ready for war. His wives, servants and subjects begged him to stay as they knew it would be a massacre. First very upset, the Mogho Naaba listened to his people and the voice of reason. He finally went back on his decision. Since then, this choice for peace is celebrated every Friday morning when all kind of people come to see the Mossi King changing from red layout to white.
Taking picture or filming is strictly forbiden but here is what I saw : The ritual starts with the arrival of the « Naabas », the chiefs of several villages around Ouagadougou. They come by bike, motorbike or even huge cars with their drivers according to their wealth status. After having greeted each other, they sit more or less close to the Mogho Naaba according to their political status. They are all dressed in their best traditional outfits. Once they have all taken place (on the ground), the ceremony starts: A first cannonball is shot. The Mogho Naaba steps outside with his red outfit, representing a confrontational attitude. Some of his wives and Nabaas come to him, prostrating and begging for him to calm down. After this scene, we can hear the captivating sound of the drums that add up to the sacred spirit of the ceremony. After a while, the Mogho Naaba comes back inside to change his red outfit into white clothes, a universal symbol of peace. At the same, time his horse is unsaddled straight on and taken away in a few seconds. A second cannonball is shot again.
There are different stories that could be at the origin of such event. In each of them there is often the implication of a woman, either the wife or the mother of the Mogho Naaba. In one case, his wife dies while travelling and as the servants do not dare to carry the news to the Mogho Naaba he finally decides to go by himself.
Another story says that the Mogho Naaba goes into war against his brother who had stolen his throne. He will be reasoned by his mother, the holder of the fetishes. She would reassure him that by invoking the fetishes, his kingdom would remain recognised above all others and by everyone.
Whichever is the true story, I noticed that women have an essential role in the legend, even though they take very limited action during the ceremony. This ceremony has anyway a strong impact on the population. The court was full of pupils, elderly, young men and women showing that all social strata of the Burkinabé population was, and still is, concerned by the message of the Mogho Nabaa : it shows how peaceful and moderate a wise man has to be, in order to take good care of his people.
Gaëlle is currently enrolled in the Master of Organic Agriculture (MOA) at Wageningen University and is doing her master thesis within the WASSA project. Image credit: Georges Félix, 2014