Bwa legend has it that the world was abandoned by God (Difini or Dobweni) after he was injured by a woman. To enable continued communication between man and himself, God sent his son, Do to earth to act as an intermediary. Through Do, humanity was given a lifeline as it is believed that Do represents the forest's life-giving qualities (nature spirits).
To harness the life-renewing forces of Do nature spirits, the head of a southern Bwa family commissions the creation of a large number and variety of wooden sculptures and masks to personify specific nature spirits (represented as humans, animals and other abstract beings). One such mask created is the nwantantay, used to represent the flying water spirit.
One of the many ways in which Bwa masks are used is at agricultural festivals (usually held during the dry season between March and May) during which they are danced by masquerades to plead to Do for a successful harvest. The masks are also used during funerary celebrations to honour deceased members of prestigious families and to solicit a smooth journey of their soul to the afterlife. Bwa masks can also be found at initiation rituals where it is believed that the secrets of Bwa society are communicated to young boys and girls, through the incisions on the masks.
For more on Bwa culture, see the article on The Art of Burkina Faso on the Art & Life in Africa website, hosted by the University of Iowa Museum of Art (UIMA) HERE.
Common features among all nwantantay masks:
Nwantantay masks fall under two main forms: