Kablé (Buffalo Headdress)

By: Adenike Cosgrove Tagged:


The Tussian (called Tusiã, Tusian, Toussian, and Tusya, in various sources) are a small ethnic group in Burkina Faso. All men and some women within the community must be initiated into the (also called Dou) association. The most powerful source of social and religious knowledge, 'small' initiation ceremonies are held biannually and 'great' initiations are held every 40 years during which initiates spend up to three months in the bush learning how to survive. Sacrifices are made during 'great' ceremonies to pay homage to ancestors and to ensure their continued positive involvement in Tussian life.

Male initiates are given new names during these ceremonies—a male initiate is given a name by his father during his first 'small' ceremony. He receives a second name (an animal namesake based on the initiates personal traits) during the 'great' ceremony, replacing the first name given by his father. The animal name given becomes the initiates personal emblem, his totem associated with a guardian spirit.

Among the Northern Tussian, kablé headdresses are created depicting a buffalo, the emblem for initiates named after the animal. They are carved exclusively for families that honour buffalos as their protective spirit animals. These headdresses are danced during performances that welcome initiates back into the community, where the masqueraders mimic the behaviour of the represented animal.

Danced by the head of the lineage, kablé headdresses are also said to be used during annual village purification rituals. The headdresses are used during rites that 'drive out' evil spirits from the village. By doing so, it is hoped that fertility of women and crops in the community is maintained thus leading to increased childbirth, abundant harvests, and the overall health and well-being of the village. Celebrations can last for up to 15 days.

The final context in which kablé headdresses are used is during dry-season funerals of male elders of the community.

At the end of each ceremony, kablé headdresses are kept on the outside wall of the home of its owner.

Distinguishing Features

  • Highly abstract
  • Wooden hemispherical helmet
  • Helmet surmounted by stylised representation of buffalo
  • Pair of broad, flat, curving horns, projects buffalo's head
    • Some examples have additional horns curing upward from helmet itself
    • Some examples have peg-like figures (spirit figures) inserted into holes between the buffalo's horns
  • Flat rectangular head
  • Long, slender legs flank head
  • Head and legs connected by long tubular body
  • Legs connect buffalo head to helmet
  • Tail project vertically downwards from between two back legs
  • Zigzag representation of bird featured at back\
  • Rattan cap attached to headdress interior
  • Blackened wood

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