Loniakê (Animal Totem Mask)


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.

A loniakê (also loniaken) mask is created depicting the animal referenced in the initiate's name. These masks are danced during performances that welcome initiates back into the community, where the masqueraders mimic the behaviour of the represented animal. Referenced animals include:

  • M'pie (heron)
  • N'sera (bird with a curved beak; foretells misfortune)
  • Ple (hare)
  • Minugu (stork)
  • Toro (partridge)
  • Kinta (fish-eating bird)
  • Gango (panther)
  • Minta (red monkey)
  • Bango (leopard)
  • Leguan (cat)
  • Sil (warthog; rolls in the mud and grunts during performances)
  • Kitia (elephant; tries to uproot trees during performances)
  • Kab (buffalo; charges his path, breaking everything in his path during performances)

At the end of the initiation ceremony, loniakê masks are kept on the outside wall of the home of its owner.

Distinguishing Features

  • Represents a bush buffalo
  • Curving horns surmount the mask
    • Forming a nearly closed circle
  • Large, flat, square plank mask
    • Stylised and geometric
  • Two large square eyeholes
    • Eyes accentuated with abrus precatorius seeds
  • Small carved 'face' depicted just above the eyes
  • Kaolin added to the plank board to harden it
  • Plank traversed by crossed bands of abrus precatorius seeds embedded in wax
  • Mask framed by long fringe of blackened leather strands threaded
  • Holes on sides of mask

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