As soon as I had read about the painted houses of the Gourunsi people, and had seen one picture of them, I wanted to go there to see it for myself. On an early Friday morning, mere hours after I had arrived in the country, I caught a bus to the town of Pô, towards the border with Ghana. A Canadian girl on the bus decided to join me, even though she was on the way to Ghana, and quite soon after our arrival in Pô, we arranged a car with a driver, bought water and mangoes, and were off to Tiébélé, some 30 kilometres east of Pô. It was my first day in Burkina Faso, and my eyes were glued to the countryside and the villages we were passing through. I saw rondavels, square houses, and many were grouped and contained by a wall, with a little courtyard in the middle. We saw a few houses with some quite primitive painting on it, and even though I had seen that one picture, I only had a vague idea about what we were going to see. The road turned out to be quite good, and in a little over half an hour, we entered Tiébélé - a town much larger than I had expected. We passed a market, and stopped somewhere to pick up a guide, who turned out to be a member of the royal family ruling Tiébélé.
We drove less than a minute before we arrived at the entrance. As soon as we got off, the guide started talking to us about the houses and their history, but our eyes constantly wandered off to what was now tantalizingly close: the houses we had come to see. I was stunned at once: the walls, storage rooms, small and larger huts and houses were all completely painted in earth colours, black, and white patterns. The big, square houses are for families, while the round, smaller ones are for bachelors. Then, there is a third type of house for the elderly. It all looked so beautiful - even though we had arrived in the middle of the day and the light was awful. Right next to us, there was a low structure, plastered in black and white, in soft, round shapes. Just as I wanted to take out my camera to take a picture of it, our guide told us that we were not allowed to take any shots there, or of the bachelor houses. The houses of the royal family are spread out; in all, there are some 400 members of the family. We entered the large compound, and the houses with their mostly geometrical decorations were making our eyes move everywhere at once to take it all in.
One of our obvious questions was why some of the houses were painted in red, white, and black, while others were just black and white. The former turned out to be the traditional style, using grounded earth and volcanic rock from Ghana to get the colours, whereas the latter type is painted with tar - which makes it last much longer. While the building of the houses is done by the men, the painting is a woman's job, and is done every two years for the traditional form, or five for the modern one which is, because of its higher durability, gaining in popularity. On some walls, we saw several sculpted animals. One of them is the turtle, considered sacred, while there were also pythons and lizards. Moreover, on some walls we saw drums, flutes, canes, and the moon. After a house is built, the person going to live in it first waits for two days. If a lizard walks on the house, and does its typical "press-ups", it is considered a good house; if not, the house is destroyed, and a new one built. At one point, we were allowed to enter the house of an old woman, which proved to be a little more difficult than expected. The door opening is very low, and you have to crawl into the house. A good way for the elderly to keep fit (and by the way: you are considered old once you are over 50 years)! Inside, a small room with mats attached to the ceiling; at night, they are used to sleep on. We saw handmade pots hanging above the low door to the next room. There, we found the kitchen, stones to grind and prepare food, and next door, storage room where cooking is done. While outside the sun was scorching, inside the temperature was actually more pleasant. We walked back through alleys with painted houses, and only saw a few blank ones - they still had to be painted. We were both totally happy when we drove back to Pô, where my new friend continued south, and I returned to Ouagadougou.
Personal travel impressions both in words and images from Tiébélé painted houses (). Clicking on the pictures enlarges them and enables you to send the picture as a free e-card or download it for personal use, for instance, on your weblog. Or click on the map above to visit more places close to Tiébélé painted houses.
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