The collective heritage – the shared perceptions, beliefs, behaviors, and interactions – that at once differentiate and unite the peoples of West Africa. Behind the material expressions of culture, (i.e. language, art), lie the more intangible societal values that create and refine these diverse West African identities.

West African Religion(s)

Top half of a painting in the primitivism style by Nigerian painter, Twins Seven Seven. It depics Shango, a Yoruba orisha, and lesser divinity in West African Religion, surrounded by worshippers during his dedicated festival.

Though a majority of West Africans have now adopted Abrahamic religions such as Islam or Christianity, there are still pockets of people who adhere to the spirituality of their ancestors. Even among those who’ve embraced imported religions, vestiges of their traditional beliefs systems remain manifestly visible in the masked dances, in the festivals and celebrations, …

The Sogo Bò Masquerade

Mask of the god of water, Faro, at the Sogo Bo festival

Nin sogo. Nin sogo tè sogo ye. Nin sogo ye jinè ye. This animal.  This animal is not an animal. This animal is a spirit *Chant of the Malian Masquerade Sogo bò (Bamana – the animals come forth) or Do bò (Bozo – the secret comes forth)    Sogo bò, Through the Eyes of  the Observer “We were in the center of the village and …

The Masons of Djenné

Annual plastering of the Great Mosque of Djenné in Mali. Photography of a master mason spreading plaster on the wall of the mosque while other masons climb the scaffolding in the background.

  “When an Agama lizard sees you coming, it jumps onto a wall. It doesn’t fall because it has ‘special’ powers. Those powers are the same that we masons use. Those are secret.” ― Master Mason Konbaba Tennepo   The Master Mason The master mason makes his way through the maze of twisting alleyways, staircases, …

Ode to the Kola Nut

Abstract painting of figures gathered around a bowl of red kola nuts, fruits that are cherished throughout West Africa.

“The word friendship in our society comes from this fruit. You must split it in two; one hand cannot clap; it takes two to make a sound. Everything that I do in art, as a visual form of expression, is [inspired] by this fruit. The kola nut, which has ritual and divine representation in the …


Twin Festival, a vodun cult of twins, in Ouidah, Benin

Whether kicking up red Sahelian dust or the sands of the lower-lying coastal plains, the footsteps of twins throughout West Africa leave an indelible print along a customarily unified, synchronous path. The Temne of Sierra Leone tell of mythological twin brothers miraculously stitching together two diverging roads, forever fusing their destinies. On whatever West African …

The Puppeteer

The heads of two West African puppets articulated at the mouth and adorned with cowrie shells, awaiting the puppeteer.

The West African puppeteer lurches, leans and sways, giving himself over to the demands of his carved creation. He is at once ajogi, a Yoruba dancer of the wooden image, and nyamakala, a Malinke force-handler, as he pulls on the ropes and rods of some of the oldest and richest of Africa’s surviving puppetry traditions. …