Last weekend I spent a day with a Prince in his court. If this conjures mental images ‘a la Disney’ then you’re quite off the mark, because the Prince I’m talking about is the son of the King of Tiebele in Burkina Faso and his court is a village deep in the African bush with little sign of its royal status other than the ornate luxury of its wall paintings.
Together with a couple of colleagues I enjoyed a day off during a busy mission in Burkina to visit this incredible place, close to the border with Ghana. Here’s a photo story of this highlight of my visit to one of Africa’s poorest countries.
Under the palaver tree, old men rest. It’s the entrance to the royal court of Tiebele, and on the left you can see the King’s throne (and tomb of his ancestors) while on the right you see where he holds court. After a short explanation with the Elders, the Prince leads us into the royal village.
There are three types of houses in Tiebele: round huts are for young unmarried men, square houses are for married couples and 8-shaped houses are for grands-parents raising their grandchildren.
This is where the villagers make the ‘dolo’, the local version of the millet beer popular throughout most of Western and Central Africa. I tried and it’s not bad at all! As it’s served warm, because of the temperature outside, it must take quite like the ‘cervoise’ of my Gallic ancestors 🙂
The patterns are the wall are not random: each and every one of them has a meaning, and they are there for the education of the young ones. The one looking like coffee beans for example represents cauri, the little seashells that used to represent money and which are now used to pay the medicine man. He transfers the disease unto the shell and then throws them away. The sign serves to remind children never to pick up a shell as they would then immediately ‘catch’ the disease on it. Even granaries are decorated with these symbols.
Some house owners have succumbed to modernity and have installed a large, high door in lieu of the small inconvenient openings harbored by the ancestral huts. These were used in war times so that the enemy would have to crawl into the house, where a small stone wall would force him to quickly stand up. This would allow the head of the family, hidden along the wall, to chop of his head.
Cooking is by far the most popular and common activity in the village, and every household has one or more kitchens: one in the patio, one on the roof and one inside for rainy days. Only women cook and are allowed into the cooking areas. Each women has her own pot to cook called the ‘divorce pot’, As the local Gourounsi are polygamous, when a woman or a man wants a divorce, they take the woman’s pot and brake it to pieces in the middle of their courtyard. If it can still work out between them, it’s up to them to ‘mend the broken pieces’.
You will not find Tiebele easily on a map. Best is to ask for help getting there! But if you see this sign ⬇️, then you’re almost there and will enjoy a truly out of this world experience.