A Day in the Life of a Village in Africa is a 2002 documentary by Christopher D. Roy, Professor of African art at the University of Iowa. This documentary is about life in a rural village in Africa. Specifically, it’s about life in small Mossi villages in Burkina Faso. Most of the filming was done in the village of Dablo. There is very little footage of life in the cities. Dr. Christopher Roy brings narrates the daily life of the people of Burkina Faso. As the story begins we are greeted by the sounds of the country; of birds humming.
Ouagadougou is the capital city of Burkina Faso. Thanks to the current mayor, it’s very clean. As we see in this documentary the streets are pleasant too. However, as attractive as the city looks, Dr. Roy says he prefers the countryside. Most people in Burkina Faso are farmers. They cultivate maize, sorghum, millet, peanuts, cotton and other crops. The end of October is harvest time. As seen in this documentary, people are harvesting in the fields. Women tend to the farms nearer to the homesteads so they can move from home to the fields and back, while men tend to farms far from home. Like most African farmers they are heavily dependent rain, so if it fails, the family may experience hunger. After harvest, they store the grain in the granaries for use in the dry season.
Once home, women pound the sorghum with sticks to separate the grain from the stalk. Later they winnow the grain and grind it to flour. The women filmed in this documentary are working in perfect unity. One of the senior women roughens up the grindstones, the women come together to grind malted millet. As we can see in the documentary, perfect unison is evident. The women sing along as they grind. The sorghum will be used to make beer. It’s the women who draw water from the well. Using their water pots, they carry water home.
In the documentary, a woman can be seen shelling karite nuts. The Mossi use karite nuts to make karite butter which is used for cooking and as a cosmetic as well. Young women can be seen in this documentary pounding grain using mortar and pestle. Naked children are a common site. In the documentary, Yacouba Bonde’s wife cares for her new baby. As we can see, she wraps it in a number of clothes. For 40 years, Dr. Roy has studied the life of the people who live in the rural villages. These are people who depend on cultivation, and whose lives are controlled by sprits. They depend on the spirits for almost everything, even survival itself.
The young women in Africa enjoy combing and braiding each other’s hair. In Dablo village, baobab leaves are used to make the family meal. It’s used to make the sauce of the day. The dried leaves are ground using mortar and pestle, after which it’s cooked into a sauce. After this as we can see in the documentary, the leaves are sifted to ensure there are no lumps. Baobab sauce is taken with ground white sorghum paste. While making the paste the woman carefully places the lid of the pot between her clothes and the fire to ensure her clothes do not catch fire. The woman first washes the grain to remove grit and stones before the grains are ground into flour. The meal is rich in fiber and very low in protein and fat. As a result Burkina Faso has the lowest rates of colon and rectal cancer but tend not to have enough protein in their diet. Once the food is served, the women and children eat together as we can see from images in this documentary, while the men eat separately.
The brewing of traditional millet beer in Dablo village is also filmed in this documentary. The sorghum is malted by soaking so that it sprouts, producing sugar in the grain. The malted grain is then dried. The grain is boiled in four cooking pots with water. After 3 days of boiling, only 3 jars are left. Before adding yeast Zenabu Bamogo explains that she has to filter the water several times. African brewers do not use hops. The water is boiled for 3 days after which it’s allowed to cool. When it cools, she adds the yeast converting the sugar to alcohol. A man can be seen in the documentary enjoying the drink.
One very important occasion in West Africa is the initiation of young men and women. It marks the transition from childhood to adulthood. In the documentary, the young initiated men have completed work and are having dinner together. To teach the young initiated men the value of team work they take part in group hoeing. As we see in the documentary, they are supervised by the elders. To accompany them others beat drums and dance. As part of the initiation the young men learn how to perform with the tribal masks. In the background of the documentary, one can hear the women laughing at the initiates. It’s still awkward to them since the boys are wearing the masks for the first time after initiation. Young initiates must repair and repaint the masks and costumes each year before they are used. The colorful dyes used are made by BASF Germany. The red dye is made from the pigments at the joint of the millet plant. In the documentary we see a young man soaking the costumes in the red dye.
Mossi homes are constructed using bricks made from mud. We can see men making bricks in this documentary. Firstly, the wet clay is stuffed into a rectangular mold. The mold is removed and the brick is allowed to dry in the sun. Also, we can see a group of boys applying a new layer of mud to the roof of a house. Images in this documentary show young men passing the lumps of mud hand to hand all the way up. It is simply admirable. Using wet clay as mortar a mason lays the bricks as he builds a house.
Another important aspect of the West Africans is the smelting and forging of iron. Firstly, we see men in the documentary making the special hard charcoal for smelting. Before melting, special prayers are made. As filmed in this documentary, the men slaughter a chicken. Millet beer is also offered to the spirits to ask for their blessing. The older men of the community construct a kiln with an opening at the bottom. Into it, alternating layers of iron and charcoal are put. This is then heated from hand-operated bellows. In the end, a smolder of iron is obtained and it’s shaped into the desired tool or weapon, such as hoes or spears. The women of the family can be seen in this documentary, bringing jars of millet beer to refresh the blacksmiths. Zaksoba Bamogo takes out the hot iron and begins to shape it into a hoe. Form images seen in this documentary it’s difficult to tell he is in his 70s. Zaksoba is the village head and is in charge of every activity in the village.
Carving is also another aspect of the Bamogo lives. In the documentary, we can see 2 sculptors at work. They have felled down a ceiba tree and are carving out a new crocodile mask. They measure the wood into accurate proportions and cut off excess wood so they can carry the rest for completion at home. As we see in the documentary, the sculptor works with a small axe, shaping the carving into a crocodile. The children also make their own masks from millet stalks. The older boys supervise them as part of the instruction for the future when they will be initiated. The larger masks imitated by the boys are shown side by side in this documentary, they bear a striking resemblance. Just like anywhere else children of West Africa love dolls. The Children of Mossi village love dolls carved by the sculptors. They take care of them as babies, even laying them to bed at night.
The women of West Africa are good at forming and firing pottery. Maria Bamogo makes a jar using the concave mold technique. Zenabu lends a hand. Every few days the women meet to fire their pots. The principal fuel they use is dried donkey or cow dung. As we can see in the documentary the women gather their pots in a depression and cover them with dried cow dung on which they light a fire. This creates gentle heat that fires the pottery well enough to be used over cooking fire.
In the documentary, Mrs. Bamago is spinning raw cotton into thread for weaving. She then gives the thread to a weaver who makes them into cloth that she can then use as wrappers for herself or for her grandchildren. There is only one surviving dyer in the village of Bousse north-west of Burkina Faso. . The rest have since died or quit the trade due to lack of demand for dyed cloth. When Dr. Roy first visited the area in1976, there were more than 100 dyers working in the dye pits. The weavers work at narrow looms with the wrap threads stretched out before them and passing the shuttle back and forth from hand to hand.
In the village market, old used shoes are being sold. As the narrator of the documentary explains, you can find just about everything from the local market. Fresh vegetable can be seen. From herbs to spices to pottery and tools, all are available. For expensive and complicated tools one requires to visit the bigger hardware shops in the city.
In the African villagers, visitors are treated with much hospitality. In this documentary, we can see women perform a song for visitors. Three men can be seen in this documentary preparing mask made from leaves. These represent the god of the wilderness called Dwo. Dwo is represented by natural materials only such as leaves and feathers of birds. The mask-man enters the village in the east, and exits in the evening in the west in the direction of the setting of the sun. The leaves are then cut off and burned. The hyena mask also performs. The earth-priest called the tengsoba is seen in this documentary seated on an overturned mortar watching from a distance. The costume is made from cultivated hemp (Cannabis sativa). One mask-man extinguishes the fire using his mask. He bought fire proof material from Ouagadougou and applied it to his mask.
A group of women in this documentary can be seen dancing. They dance to appease the spirits of the deceased. They are playing water gourds and drums turned upside down in a basin of water. The women are carrying two plastic model helicopters. They claim to have travelled to the funeral on a chopper and demand to be reimbursed. Funerals in West Africa are marked with a lot of magic. The relatives send the spirit of the diseased to the land of the ancestors. This documentary films the funeral ceremony of an earth-priest who was also a great hunter. Several hunters have come to honor him. The magic used by the hunters is dreaded. Four men are seen in these documentary carrying objects that embody enormous spiritual power.
Divination is another normal thing among the Mossi. Baga, a diviner is shown this documentary dressed in the cultural regalia. As he plies his trade, at some point he is possessed by a spirit and has to be supported by his three sons. In the documentary, the voice of the spirit can be heard. The diviner then moves round the crowd of people foreseeing their successes or failures. The elders of the village are filmed in this documentary offering sacrifices at the diviner’s feet. The men offering the sacrifices are both senior smiths; Zaksoba and Naoga Bamogo. Baga casts cowrie shells as one of the techniques he uses to communicate to the spirit world. As we see in the documentary, he then reads the patterns left by the shells after he tosses them. This is only one of the many forms of divination practiced in Africa. Filmed in the documentary is the diviner’s shrine, here he offers prayers and gifts to the spirits.
For centuries, Africans focused on the ancestral spirits which gave them bounty harvests watched over them and protected them from disease, and accidents. By the 9th century many Africans began to convert to Islam as the religion spread from the north of Africa. In the 15th Century many Africans closer to the coast began to convert to Christianity. In Burkina Faso there are those who are Christians, Muslims and some continue to worship the traditional African way. In the past these people lived together peacefully. In the recent past, fundamental Christianity and fundamental Islam have caused major conflicts and violent breakouts.
About 20% of Burkinabe are Christians, maybe 40-50% Islam although both exaggerate the numbers of their followers. Both don’t admit that 70% still practice traditional African religion. Filmed in this documentary is a Christian wedding of a couple in Ouagadougou. The couple still lives in the village. Although the priest is from Burkina Faso, he does not speak the language of the people and as such needs an interpreter. As the couple makes its way to the banquet everyone celebrates. On Friday afternoon the Muslims make their way to the mosque in Dori.
In the city public entertainment as we can see pretty much imitates the west. This is what brings to light the marked difference between the poor in the rural villages, the middle class in the city and the rich. The film seen in this documentary is the opening of FESPACO a famous film festival in Ouagadougou. There are elaborate opening ceremonies in which musicians perform. There was also a beauty contest at the home of the head of state which was attended by the upper middle class and the wealthy in Ouagadougou. These have flourishing businesses in Paris, bringing to light the disparities between the haves and the have not in West African countries. Images in this documentary show Tahiti, a group from a French territory performing a dance at the opening of the FESPACO. Even Indian dances are presented at the same event.
The wealthier people in Burkina Faso like the chief of state also have their own distractions like the fashion and beauty contests filmed in this documentary. In the ceremony attended by Dr. Roy his daughter was one of the models. Most people in attendance were French or wealthy Burkinabe with businesses in France. African and French designers exhibited their high fashion products. In the villages of Africa, people love a bit of sport too. The most popular ones in Burkina Faso are soccer and wrestling. In this documentary, we can see 2 men wrestling. Another group plays football.
When the first rains fall in April or May, everyone leaves to the fields for planting. This is because they know that this will prevent the rainwater from carrying away the top soil. Every time that they plant they hope that the harvest will be enough to keep them, their children and elders healthy all through the year.
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