See P. B. Hammond, Yatenga (1966).
Mossi (sing. Moaaga) are a people in central Burkina Faso, living mostly in the villages of the Volta River Basin. The Mossi are the largest ethnic group in Burkina Faso, 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 More language.
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 Ouagadougou, the historical and present capital of Burkina Faso. 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.
The Nyon-nyonse are the indigenous people of the Volta region before the rise of the Mossi Empire and are charged with overseeing religious and spiritual affairs. Their role gives essential legitimacy to the authority of the Emperor, without which he would have substantially reduced power. Nyon-nyonse are said to have mystical powers that allow them to maintain links with ancestors, and are also owners of the land (Tengsob ramba) that the Emperor governs. The Nyon-nyonse are often feared by common people and tend to live in a closed circle, somewhat similar to the Indian caste system. Outside of the ruling class and the Nyon-nyonse are the common people.
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 for ceremonies and other important events. Mossi people often identify to groups; hence, at all levels, there is a hierarchy in Mossi society. In every day life, the family hierarchy is most important, and family is often directly associated with the notion of hierarchy for the Mossi.
Group identity and values within the Mossi and contrasted against other ethnic groups are tied first and foremost to language.
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 behaviour. 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 believes, 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 immanent 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 of 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 behaviours 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Roy, Christopher D. "Art of the Upper Volta Rivers." Meudon: Chaffin, 1987
Roy, Christopher D. "Land of the FLying Masks." Munich: Prestel, 2007.