Mossi, African people, numbering about 2.5 million, mostly in Burkina Faso. From c.A.D. 1000 the Mossi were organized into several kingdoms, one of which has continued to the present day. Despite long and intimate contact with Muslims, the Mossi have retained their ancient traditional religion, which has a strong emphasis on ancestor worship.

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.


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 Ghana. 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 people's history has been kept 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 iniation of intensive colonisation by the French.To which before then, the Mossi people held a strict policy and 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 the 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 the society. Two great events have affected the status of the Mogho Naaba during colonization: firstly, during the initial vague of occidental invasion, he retired to the Dagomba kingdom with which the Mossi have always kept brotherhood 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 Occidental 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 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 natives or Nyon-nyonse

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.

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 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.

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 Maussi speak the More language, a sub-group of the MoreDagbani group of languages. It is spoken in Ghana and Burkina. 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 Yatenga (Ouahigouya), another distinct dialect in the northern region, a third in the southeast in Koupela, different from a fourth dialect in the same region called Tenkodogo. 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 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.

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


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.


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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