Senufo-Tagba of West Africa

illustrated village including buildings and a woman


hut pictograph

Within the village, families live together in compounds. The family members in one compound will include the head man and his wives (a typical Senufo man has two or three wives), the head man's sons and their wives, and the head man's grandsons and their wives. The compounds are walled. As the family grows, the walls are expanded to include all the houses, kitchens, and granaries needed. A compound will hold approximately 100-300 people, and there are approximately four to six compounds in a village.

A gbanla.


Entry into a compound is through a house set into the outside wall. This house also serves as the compound's ritual space. It is called the gbanla (pronounced bah-lah). This area is supposed to protect all the members of the compound. Some of the family's masks are there as well as votive objects and musical instruments. On top of the ritual area is a place for the head man. It serves as his living room. From there he can see all the comings and goings at the compound. He will receive visitors in this area, too.

If a traveler walking by at night feels tired, he/she may go into a family's gbanla to rest and spend the night. It is felt that the visitor was sent there by the ancestors, and he/she is treated with every respect. The first person from the compound to see the visitor will tell the head man so that food can be supplied.

Gathering Place

The center of the compound is a gathering place. This is where meetings and special events are held. Men meet here to eat their meals. (Women eat together in front of the kitchen of the oldest woman in the compound.) This central area near the elder's house is also the area where the family pot is kept. The family pot is a calabash-covered pot sitting on a mound of dirt with a gourd hanging from a pole beside it. Inside the pot are medicines (leaves, roots) ritually placed there by the head man. Drinking or bathing in the water brings a person protection and good luck. Drinking the water before leaving on a trip helps the person remember his/her family. The pot will be in the open space in front of the elder's house or in a small hut near his home.

a pot on the ground
A family pot.