Until the girls were abducted, I didn’t know much about Burkina Faso. And I didn’t think I wanted to know more until I stumbled upon Tiébélé, a village full of the most elaborately-painted earthen homes and mausoleums. Rita Willaert has a treasure trove of images on her flickr page. Hit the jump to see just a few – these are pure art.
These small mud brick homes are huddled together on an exclusive 1.2 hectare plot in the southern part of the landlocked West African nation, and they are fine specimens of vernacular Gourounsi architecture. Thanks to Rita’s excellent photographs, we get a real sense of the buildings.
Made with mud, wood, straw, cow dung and some white chalk, the homes are then burnished with stones, carefully so there’s no blending of colors, and coated with néré, a natural varnish taken from the locust bean tree. This unique artistry dates back to roughly the 16th century, according to Amusing Planet.
Getting there is an incredible honor. But the process is one that only the most committed travel writer would be willing to endure — it’s incredibly arduous.
Olga Stavrakis from TravelwithOlga.com writes about a 2009 visit:
It was only through a process of year long negotiations that we were permitted to enter the royal palace the entrance of which is pictured here. They were awaiting us and the grand old men of the village, the nobility, were all seated waiting for us. Each of the villages has muslims and animists (local religions) and no one much cares who believes in what. However, we were told in advance that we must not wear anything red and we may not carry an umbrella. Only the chiefly noble family is permitted that privilege and to do so would constitute a great affront to our hosts
The decorated homes are said to distinguish royalty from commoners. They were also built with defense in mind, hence the tiny two foot entrances, which will slow down anyone trying to storm the chief inside, and wooden ladders on the roof that can be retracted if need be.Kassena women, who can trace their ancestry to the 15th century, are traditionally responsible for interpreting their community’s cultural and religious symbols on the royal walls. They’re even encouraged to make their own creative designs as well – though the complex geometric diagrams are not random.
The community is guarded — as if they know they are endangered.
We were pleased and curious to find that the kitchens are simple with large clay pots over an earthen wood stove. And of course, earth buildings with lovely thick walls protect against harsh sunlight and solar gain, and even rain, when it comes.
All images with slight color adjustment courtesy Rita Willaert’s Flickr photostream