October 29, 2020

This Village In Burkina Faso Is Filled With Beautifully Painted Houses

Tiébélé is a village full of the most elaborately-painted earthen homes and mausoleums nestled at the base of a hill of Burkina Faso, overlooking the Savannah. 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.

Rita Willaert: Flickr
Travel with Olga: Website

The African village of Tiébélé is home to the Kassena people—one of the oldest ethnic groups in Burkina Faso.

Photo: Rita Willaert

 In 2009, photographer Rita Willaert and travel blogger Olga Stavrakis were lucky enough to be some of the few people ever allowed to visit the isolated site.

Willaert’s photos document the villagers’ untouched, unique way of living, where local traditions have been protected for centuries. Stavrakis recounts their experience, explaining how before they arrived they were even given a dress code: “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.”

Although a royal village might sound opulent, this village is anything but. The Tiébélé royal residence is made up of a series of small clay houses that are hand-painted in different geometric patterns and symbols using clay paints. These patterns are one of the visual indicators that differentiates the royal homes from that of the “ordinary people.” Another difference is the huts’ door sizes: the chief, for example, has the house with the smallest door, for protection. While most of the structures are homes, some of the most elaborately decorated are mausoleums, where the dead are laid to rest.

Photo: Rita Willaert

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.

Photo: Rita Willaert

The village’s chief and royal court live in small clay houses that are hand-painted in different geometric patterns that symbolize a person’s importance.

Photo: Rita Willaert Photo: Rita Willaert Photo: Rita Willaert Photo: Rita Willaert
Photo: Rita Willaert Photo: Rita Willaert Photo: Rita Willaert

While most of the structures are homes, some of the most elaborately decorated are mausoleums, where the dead are laid to rest.

Photo: Rita Willaert

Photo: Rita Willaert

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.

Photo: Rita Willaert Photo: Rita Willaert

Photo: Rita Willaert Photo: Rita Willaert Photo: Rita Willaert
Photo: Rita Willaert Photo: Rita Willaert Photo: Rita Willaert
Photo: Rita Willaert Photo: Rita Willaert Photo: Rita Willaert Photo: Rita Willaert
Photo: Rita Willaert