Tiébélé is a department or commune of Nahouri Province in southeastern Burkina Faso. Its capital lies at the town of Tiébélé; the chief, the royal court and the nobility of the Kassena people, who first settled the region in the 15th century, reside there. Burkina Faso, Africa, is the site of this unique village. The Tiebele village is found in the poorest center of Africa but nurtures it’s richest art
Nestled at the base of a hill, overlooking the Savannah, lies Tiébélé—an African village in Burkina Faso. First settled in the 15th Century, the 1.2-hectare commune is home to the Kassena people, their chief, and royal court—together making up one of oldest ethnic groups in Burkina Faso. In 2009, photographer Rita Willaert and travel blogger Olga Stavrakis were lucky enough to be some of the few people ever allowed to visit the isolated site.
Willaert’s photos document the villagers’ untouched, unique way of living, where local traditions have been protected for centuries. Stavrakis recounts their experience, explainin++
g how before they arrived they were even given a dress code: “We were told in advance that we must not wear anything red and we may not carry an umbrella. Only the chiefly noble family is permitted that privilege and to do so would constitute a great affront to our hosts.”
Although a royal village might sound opulent, this village is anything but. The Tiébélé royal residence is made up of a series of small clay houses that are hand-painted in different geometric patterns and symbols using clay paints. These patterns are one of the visual indicators that differentiates the royal homes from that of the “ordinary people.” Another difference is the huts’ door sizes: the chief for example, has the house with the smallest door, for protection. While most of the structures are homes, some of the most elaborately decorated are mausoleums, where the dead are laid to rest.
The Kassana Paintings
Like many other communities throughout Africa, Tiébélé functions upon a patriarchal rule yet the village is worldwide famous and a Unesco heritage site because of its women. They have succeeded in creating both a way to protect their mud house walls and to add lavish designs and colors made from natural materials. Then the painted walls are burnished with stones that reinforce and smooth the surface. Once the process is done,the women generarte a natural varnish spread out over the entire building protecting them from any kind of weather. This practice has been used for ages