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Mossi (sing. Moaaga) are a people in central Burkina Fasomarker, living mostly in the villages of the Volta River Basin. The Mossi are the largest ethnic group in Burkina Fasomarker, constituting 40% of the population, or about 6.2 million people.. The other 60% of Burkina Faso's population is composed of more than 60 ethnic groups, mainly the Gurunsi, Senufo, Lobi, Bobo, and Fulani. The Mossi speak the Mòoré language.


Burkina Faso is where the Mossi tribe originated though significant numbers of Mossi-speakers live in neighboring countries including Beninmarker, Côte d'Ivoiremarker, Ghanamarker, Malimarker, and Togomarker. In 1996, the estimated population of Burkina Faso was 10,623,323. Five to six million are probably Mossi; another 1.2 million Mossi live in Côte d'Ivoire.

Legendary origins

According to tradition, the Mossi derive from the marriage of a Dagomba princess and Mandé hunter. Yennenga was a warrior princess, daughter of a Dagomba king in upper east Ghanamarker. While exploring her kingdom on horseback, she lost her way and was rescued by Rialé, a solitary Mandé hunter. They got married and gave birth to the first authentic Mossi, Ouedraogo, who is recognised as the father of Mossi people. The Mossi also are also directly descended from the Dagomba people and similarly live in Upper East Ghana with a capital of Tamale.

Mossi Empire

As the Mossi by oral tradition, it is impossible to assign precise dates for the period before colonization. Nevertheless historians assign the beginning of their existence as a state to the 15th century. The Mossi were able to conquer a vast amounts of territory thanks to their mastering of the horse, and created a prosperous empire and kept peace in the region until the beginning of colonialism. The expansion of the Mossi empire was stopped in the 19th century with the initiation of intensive colonisation by the French. Before then, the Mossi people held a belief that "when the first white face appeared in the land the nation would die.

Colonial era

Colonialism was devastating for most African people, as it resulted in imposed frontiers that affected the interrelationships between tribes, leading to political and social unrest throughout Africa when it ceased; the Mossi are no exception. This domination affected Mossi society and weakened the power of the Mossi emperor, the Mogho Naaba. Despite colonization, the Mogho Naaba was still given some authority over the Mossi during the French colonial period. He is still consulted today for crucial decisions, especially those affecting the destiny of society. Two great events have affected the status of the Mogho Naaba during colonization: firstly, during the initial phase of European invasion, he retired to the Dagomba kingdom with which the Mossi have always kept brotherly relations. Finally in 1896, the Mogho accepted the French protectorate. Though it has not been generally recognized, the Mossi played a key role in France's military during World War II. They constituted the greater part of the corps in the military troops of French West Africa, known in French as the Tirailleurs Sénégalais. Despite these historical shocks to Mossi society, they managed to keep their strong identity and their social structure.

Organization of Mossi society

The Mossi people have organised their society in an original hierarchic process in which family and state are the key elements.

The Mogho Naaba and the Nakomse

The highest position in Mossi society is that of the Emperor, who is given executive power. The Emperor's role is to rule the entire population and to protect the kingdom. Today, he lives in Ouagadougoumarker, the historical and present capital of Burkina Fasomarker. Though the political dynamic of the country has changed, the Mogho Naaba (Emperor) is still recognised by his people and has substantial authority.

Second to the Emperor come the nobles, or Nakomse. The Nakomse are all from the family of the Emperor, whether they be brothers, sisters, cousins, or otherwise. In fact, all dignitaries come from the Emperor's family. The Nakomse are often assigned territories in the kingdom as governorships and rule in the name of the Mogho Naaba. As in the past, the Emperor needs the support of his Nyon-nyonse (or gnon-gnon-sse) subjects to fully exercise his power. The Nyon-nyonse are the peoples who lived in Mossi-controlled regions before the Mossi.

Mossi society is divided vertically into two major segments: the descendants of the horsemen who conquered the peoples on the Mossi plateau are called the Nakomse (“people of power”), and all Mossi chiefs come exclusively from the Nakomse class. These people use figures as political art, to validate their rule over the peoples they conquered. The descendants of the ancient farming peoples who had occupied the land from the beginning of time and who, by right of first occupation were and are the owners of the land are called the Tengabisi (“people of the earth”). These Tengabisi can be further divided into groups of smiths (Saya), groups of traders (Yarse), and most important, groups of farmers (Nyonyose). Generally the smiths and the traders do not use masks, but the Nyonyose, the “ancient ones” are the principle makers and users of masks in Mossi society.

The craftsmen and ordinary citizens

They constitute the larger part of the population and are all subjects of the emperor. These two groups are generally fused but have internal subdivisions, each one having its own ruling family; they perform ceremonies and other important events. Mossi people often identify with groups; hence, at all levels, there is a hierarchy in Mossi society. In everyday life, the family hierarchy is most important, and family is often directly associated with the notion of hierarchy for the Mossi.

Language and cultural values

Group identity and values within the Mossi and contrasted against other ethnic groups are tied first and foremost to language.

More language

The Mossi speak the More language, a sub-group of the MoreDagbani group of languages. It is spoken in Ghanamarker and Burkinamarker. This language is common to a larger group, Gur languages belonging to the Niger-Congo languages. Within the language exist a few dialects based mainly on region. For example, there is a dialect spoken in Yatengamarker (Ouahigouyamarker), another distinct dialect in the northern region, a third in the southeast in Koupelamarker, different from a fourth dialect in the same region called Tenkodogomarker. Despite these regional differences, all of the dialects are mutually intelligible.

Cultural values

According to the explanations of Mrs. Tapsoba Marie, the former Cultural Counsellor at Burkina Embassy in Senegal and also Mossi herself, Mossi culture can be divided into four main values characteristic of the ethnic group.

Attitude towards ancestors

Ancestors are believed to have reached a better world from which they can influence life on earth. They can help or punish their descendants depending on their behavior. Ancestors are also the judges that have the power to allow a descendant to enter the "pantheon of the ancestors". If an ancestor chooses to deny entrance, the soul of the disavowed one is condemned to run at random for all eternity. Because of these beliefs, Mossi swear by their ancestors or by the land; when they do so (which only occurs in extreme situations), it is more than symbolic—it is a call to imminent justice.


Land is related to the ancestors, being a path by which one can access the ancestors. Even today, this notion gives a unique value to land in Mossi thought. Land is considered to be much more than simple dust and has a spiritual dimension to it. A Mossi's life depends on his land, and it is essential for the family settlement.


Family is also an essential cultural element of the Mossi, who hold collectivism in high regard. Individualism does not exist in traditional Mossi culture: one’s actions and behaviors are always taken to be characteristics of one's family. They must always ask an elder in order to do something. As a result, all are expected to act in their family's name; thus, the family is the smallest entity in the Mossi society. Heritage is patrilineal, passed down from a father to his sons. However, when a man has no sons, women can inherit from their husbands and even from their father.

S.F. Nader writing in the 1940s and 50s about homosexuality in Sub-Saharan Africa, noted that among the Mossi pages chosen from among the most beautiful boys aged seven to fifteen were dressed and had the other attributes of women in relation to chiefs, for whom sexual intercourse was denied on Fridays. After the boy reaches maturity they were given a wife by the chief. The first child born to such couples belonged to the chief.


Hierarchy is a fundamental concept for the Mossi and pervasive in their culture. The family is organised like a kingdom with its king — the husband and father, his advisor — the wife, and the people — the children. Aunts and uncles also play a role by helping in the education and raising of Mossi children.

Traditional and Cultural holidays and events

Ceremonies and celebrations pace the life of Mossi people, with each celebration having its particulars. Through them the community expresses joy or suffering, or simply fulfils duties to the memory of the ancestors.

Mogho Naaba court

The Friday Mogho Naaba court ceremony derives from the oppression experience from the appearance of the first colonial invaders. The first threat led the king of the Mossi to travel to the Dagomba kingdom for help fighting the colonizers. A second threat from the colonizers led the Mogho Naaba to leave his court a second time to find help. However, before he left, the Emperor learned that the threat was false and that his kingdom was safe. In celebration of this event, even today, that event is reenacted every Friday of the week at the Emperor's court.

Culture and originality


Mossi Mask.

Masks occupy an important position in Mossi culture and are often considered holy. Until recently, it was forbidden to take photographs or film masks, especially ceremonial ones. Today, however, the Mossi masks and culture can be seen through such festivals as SIAO (Fr. Salon international de l’Artisanat de Ouagadougou), Week of the Culture, and the Atypical Nights of Koudougou (Les Nuits Atypiques de Koudougou). Each Nyon-nyonse family has its own mask, and they are charged with protecting the masks to this day. Masks are believed to hold mystical powers and represent a link with the ancestors.


  1. CIA. The World Fact Book. 01/10/2006. Retrieved 02/10/2006 from
  2. Roy D. Christopher (1998b). Burkina information. Art of Burkina Faso, revised 15 November 1998 Retrieved on 03/10/2006 from [1]
  3. Burkina Faso (2006b). Sculptures de Laongo Burkina Faso Retrieved 04/12/ 2006 from [2]
  4. Roy D. Christopher, (1998a). Mossi information. Art of Burkina Faso, revised 3 November 1998
  5. Burkina Faso (2006a). The Colonisation. Retrieved 04/12/ 2006 from [3]
  6. Tapsoba, Marie, interview on 04/03/2006. "Significant values of Mossi and Traditional and Cultural Events."
  7. S.F.Nadel, The Nuba, London: Oxford University Press, 1947.

External links

Roy, Christopher D. "Art of the Upper Volta Rivers." Meudon: Chaffin, 1987

Roy, Christopher D. "Land of the FLying Masks." Munich: Prestel, 2007.

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