As we stepped into the court of the traditional village of Tiebélé we were instantly taken in by the labyrinth of smooth hand-molded houses, and the repetitive patterns ornamenting each wall.
Our guide, Herman, explained the intense process involved in building the houses- the continuous addition of different mixtures of sand cement, painted with a coating of red soil as a seal, and finally the natural black (or sometimes red or white) designs coming from the concentration of different seeds and minerals. It is a battle against the rain and sun to keep the structure standing, and each year demands constant maintenance, but all part of their traditional day-to-day life.
We were fortunate to visit one of the most famous houses in the court belonging to a old women of the village. She has reportedly travelled the globe learning and teaching the design process and decoration of the houses. The outside of her house was incredibly detailed, and as Herman explained, very meaningful. Each pattern, no matter how intricate, related to an aspect of traditional life, animistic beliefs, the harvest or the family history. The low curved archway is the door into her house, and you’ be amazed how she can scoot in and out of there, no yoga needed for her.
Since she is a widow she lives in a house shaped like a figure-8. Single people have round houses, couples move into square houses- makes the census process pretty quick! and gives an interesting layout to the village. We were instantly lost as we walked through narrow passageways, up and down steps, and through courtyards filled with corn or millet or children.
In the widow’s house, one half of the 8 is the kitchen, the other half the bedroom. Millet and corn are staple products, so every house has its own grinding stone. The one in her house was particularly magical with the interior paintings and the one beam of sunlight for the room directed over the stones. She also had a stack of traditional clay pots used to pound yams and potatoes into various consistencies, the base for many dishes here. The perforated pot is used to make a yam-based couscous.
After the tour of her two rooms, we went up onto the terrace to get a feel for the maze we walked through to get there. And we finished the visit by sharing the local fermented drink made from millet, called dolo- tastes sort of like cider, though a little too warm, and is served in a gourd which is subsequently passed around to everyone in sight as a sign of generosity. Everyone is your family when there is dolo around!
A very beautiful glimpse into another way of life here in Burkina.