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Mossi Biiga Doll Carved Burkina Faso African Art

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Title Mossi Biiga Doll Carved Burkina Faso African Art
Type of Object Doll - Female figure
Country of Origin Burkina Faso
People Mossi or Moshi
Materials Wood
Approximate Age 20th century
Dimensions Height: 14 Inches
Width: 1.5 Inches
Overall Condition Fair
Damage/Repair Cracks, chips and a well worn patina

Additional Information: A Mossi doll in the form of a female figure wth a long slim torso with breasts and marking. The figure has no arms and legs. The Mossi identify such dolls as biiga.

The Mossi are today the largest single group living in Burkina Faso. They originated from horsemen who made their way north from present day Ghana during the 1500’s. Mossi are renowned for their masquerades and the use of large superbly sculpted and brightly painted masks and colorful costumes. Among the Mossi elders are highly honored with elaborate funerals and the appearance of masked dancers with masks representing ancestors and various spirits and forces of Nature in dramatic and often vigorous dances. Sculpted figures known as Ninande (pl.) have a number of functions and It is difficult to establish the use of a figure without specific knowledge of it’s use. This stylized sculpted female figure has and unusual Mossi facial and body lines and a ringed neck. The high crested hairstyle is a version of gyonfo coiffure worn by the female among the Mossi.

In general, figures are identified with local chiefs and clan elders during ceremonies reinforcing local political relationships and chiefly authority. Figures are also used at funerals and in some areas are buried with the elder. During yearly public ceremonies figures honoring ancestors will have cloths wrapped around their waists similar to cloths worn by Mossi women.Among their many works is the “biiga” or doll; though the word doll is not a good translation of the because the function of the sculpture goes way beyond that of a ‘plaything.’ For a young female child the biiga represents the power that will enable her to have a child and simultaneously the baby she is learning to take care for.

The biiga doll is washed and dressed and carried on the back just like a real child would be. If it is damaged, the biiga is taken to the local diviner for attention. The biiga is passed on from mother to daughter or from sister to sister. All Mossi dolls have a cylindrical base that is slightly wider than the body. It is carved without legs or arms but has accentuated breasts which are a symbol of motherhood. The head is a stylization of the gyonfo, a female hairdo with 3 crests; the center one running from the forehead to the base of ht e neck. Lines that are etched into the head represent braids. The biiga also features scarifications that are realistic and found on the Mossi people themselves.

For a similar example see Roy, Christopher & Thomas G. B. Wheelock, Burkina Faso Land of the Flying Masks. The Thomas G. B. Wheelock Collection, 2007,figs. 478-489

Recommended Reading:

Roy, Christopher & Thomas G. B. Wheelock, Burkina Faso Land of the Flying Masks. The Thomas G. B. Wheelock Collection, 2007

Roy, Christopher., The Art of the Upper Volta Rivers, 1987.