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Tiebele, Burkina Faso – The African one-of-a-kind village with unique and stunning painted mud houses

David Goran

In the south-western part of Burkina Faso, a landlocked country in west Africa, near the Ghanaian border, lies a small, circular village of about 1.2 hectares, called Tiebele. Set in the heart of Kassena country, Tiebele is famous for its sukhala or colorful windowless traditional houses. It is inhabited by people of Kassena, who first settled the region in the 15th century, the oldest ethnic group in Burkina Faso.

Architecture of Tiebele reflect the building traditions of the Kassena people. Source

The architecture of Tiebele reflect the building traditions of the Kassena people. 

Kassena is a stunning example of people using their natural resources to express their rich culture. They decorate their homes by painting intricate designs on the exterior walls of their houses, using colored mud and chalk. Some of the most elaborately decorated houses, however, are not actually living quarters but mausoleums for the dead. Photos: Maarten van der Bent/Flickr

Decorations on the walls. Source

Decorations on the walls. 

 

While the building of the houses is done by the men, the painting is a woman's job. Source

While the building of the houses is done by the men, the painting is a woman’s job. 

The houses are ornamented with incredibly precise and delicate folklore patterns and each painted house has many different geometrical and illustrative drawings. Wall decorating is always done by the Gurunsi women and it’s very ancient practice that dates from the sixteenth century AD. The colors used are black, white and red, made using local natural materials such as clay, kaolin, and coal.

The designs also serves to protect the walls themselves. Source

The designs also serve to protect the walls themselves. 

 

Painted house with a small door opening. Source

Painted house with a small door opening. 

Tiébélé’s houses are built with defense in mind, whether that is against the climate or potential enemies. The doors are small to offer protection and there are barely any windows.

The women crush different colored stones to mix with water and clay to use as paint. Source

The women crush different colored stones to mix with water and clay to use as paint. 

African architecture is close to nature. The construction is made with abundant resources found on the site that can be re-applied endlessly. After a house is built, the person that is going to live in it first waits for two days, and if a lizard walks in the house it is considered a good house; if not, the house is destroyed.

The motifs can illustrate just about anything from objects to religion and beliefs. Source

The motifs can illustrate just about anything from objects to religion and beliefs. 

The small village faces challenges to sustain the integrity of its structures. There is an interest in developing the site as a cultural tourism destination to generate economic resources for conservation.