Burkina Faso is considered the leader in African art because of its craft markets and festivals seen throughout the country. FESTIMA however, is their largest festival with over 100,000 visitors each year from all over Africa, and approximately 2,000 attendees from around the globe.
FESTIMA is the largest International Art and Mask Festival in West Africa with hundreds of traditional masks on display representing six countries – Benin, Cote d’ Ivoire, Mali, Togo, Senegal and over 50 villages from within Burkina Faso.
Burkina Faso within itself has over 60 different ethnic groups with different languages, and cultures with many maintaining their Animist beliefs.
Animism is the belief that all things have a spirit or soul, including animals, plants, rivers, mountains, stars, the moon, and the sun with each one of these entities having a spirit that can offer help or harm to humans. These spirits must either be worshiped or appeased.
Animists offer sacrifices, prayers, dances, or other forms of devotions to these spirits in hope of blessings upon their crops, health, fertility or for protection from harm.
FESTIMA preserves the culture of mask making and the techniques that have been passed down through generations. Many of the costumes and mask that are worn during the festival are made of leaves, straw, wood and textile. The masks itself symbolizes the worship of ancestors and spirits of the various ethnic groups, tribes or clans.
The Mask however, play an important role during commemorations of rites and the cycle of life. There are two aspect of the masks cult and culture for they are religious in nature, and historically associated with animism. The organizers of FESTIMA primary purpose is to preserve the history and culture of mask making.
According to traditional beliefs the ceremony is comprised of frantic music and dancing that transform and entranced the mask wearer into a spirit which communicates with the ancestors. A wise man or translator sometimes accompanies the wearer of the mask during the ritual, helping to interpret the ancestors’ message. Keep in mind during the event the performances are more symbolic in nature. Mask wearers dancing the ritual in the ceremony is accompanied by a musician who plays a hand drum, whistles, or the balafons. Sometimes a translator is present to interpret the meaning of the dance.
In addition to dance performances seminars on historical and cultural topics are provided, storytelling competitions, educational events for children, and a marketplace is also available for those who attend this three day event.
FESTIMA is held every two years in the even year between late February and early March.