Cour Royale, Burkina Faso

Tiebele, which is roughly 12.4 miles north of Ghana’s border, is known within the small West African country of Burkina Faso for its sukhala, the elaborately painted walls of the houses and outbuildings within the community chief’s complex. The village is home to the Kassena ethnic group, which has lived in this area since the 15th century.

The patterns on the buildings within the Cour Royale de Tiébélé, which are usually painted by women, are an important example of the Kassena cultural legacy. Traditional designs are created by hand in black, white, and red colors, with lacquer prepared from beans. Adorning the walls with these artistic creations is a community activity, with upwards of 15 women working on any given building. It isn’t just houses that receive this special treatment. Mausoleums for the dead are decorated too.

The architecture of the buildings themselves is typical of the larger Gurunsi ethnic group. The walls are thick and have minimal windows, for defense against both people and climate. The buildings were historically created using soil, straw, and cow dung, though nowadays mud, brick, and stone are the more common materials of choice.

More than 450 people live in Tiébélé’s royal court, a large compound of typical sukhalas or traditional painted houses. Children live with their grandparents in octagonal huts, couples live in rectangular huts and single people in round ones. Painting is generally done in February/March, after the harvest. Each drawing, whether geometrical or illustrative, has a meaning (fertility, afterlife, wisdom etc).