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The Senufos

1. The origines

Left the internal delta of Niger —around the town of Mopti (Mali)— in the search of good grounds, the Senufos arrived thousand years ago in the area where they currently reside.

Korhogo, protected from the warlike incursions by the White Bandama, becomes the capital and the seat of the most important senufo cheffery.

At the end of last century when the famous mandingue conqueror Samory threatened the country senufo, the chief of Korhogo declared: "We are not warriors, but farmers".


2. The senufo land

Currently, the senufo country is distributed between three states╩: the Ivory Coast, Mali and Burkina Faso.

The senufo group understands approximately 1╩500╩000 people divided into more than thirty sub-groups. Each sub-group with its own characteristics but they exists several cultural features which make the unity of Senufos╩: the language, the patronyms, the social and religious organization.



2.1. The language

The name "senufo" is a mandingue term of High-Niger which indicates Senna or Siéna, name they are even given them (those which speak senna).

In all the country, the origin language is senna (language and culture not mandingue). Senufo —Sénoufos or Senoufos in Frensh— being those which speak Sene. The differences between the sub-groups appear in nuances of pronunciation ; the accent, the tone, the contraction of certain words etc.



2.2. The patronyms

The typical senufo patronyms are five, corresponding to five original lineages.

Senufo name
Animal fetish Mandingue name*

the panther

TUO the wart hog DAGNIORHO or TOURE
SEKONGO the ground squirrel KAMARA
YEO the red antelope with white lines and spots OUATARA
SILUE the black monkey KOUNDE

* This is not a translation but these names represent the same food interdicts, the same taboos.


3. God and the spirits

3.1. Poro and Holly Wood

When one traverses the senufo land in dry season, one can see, near the villages, some dark green spots which dominate the yellowish bush ; these are Holly Woods, remainders of the primadial forest, preserved places, reserved places for Poro.

Poro is a secret society, organized in age groups, which manages traditional knowledge.

Under the behaviour of the former initiates, the teaching at "the senufo university" is long and demanding. After three seven years cycles, he also reaches him the statute of initiated.

During all these years, it learns the secret laws of the spirits which dominate the men.

But initiation in Poro also understands a more material teaching ; schedule of the agricultural work, various artisanal technics╔


3.2. The senufo pantheon

For the Senufos, at the origin of a whole, there is single god founder, Koulou Tyolo.

But this god is sleeping and he does not intervenes more in the businesses of the universe.



Wood sculpture of Katieleo

Guardian mother of the village, protective of Poro and Holly Wood, she is the female counterpart of Koulo Tiolo, the Creator. The representations of Kalieleo are very widespread in the Senufo statuary. She can be represented alone or giving the breast to a child. Koulo Tiolo himself is never represented.


4. The senufo art

The senufo art, in its different expressions, is always essentialy sacred.



4.1. The sculptors


" Kpélié" mask

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4.2. The painters



5. Bibliography

• Coulibaly Sinali, Le paysan sénoufo, Les Nouvelles Éditions Africaines, Abidjan-Dakar, 1978.

• Delafosse Maurice, Le peuple Siéna ou Sénoufo, Revue des Études Ethnographiques et Sociologiques, Paris, 1908-09.

• Holas Bohumil, Les Sénoufo (y compris les Minianka), Monographies Ethnologiques Africaines, Institut International Africain, P.U.F., Paris, 1966.

• Holas Bohumil, The image of the mother in Ivory Coast art, Les Nouvelles Éditions Africaines, Abidjan-Dakar, 1975.

• Holas Bohumil, L’art sacré sénoufo, Les Nouvelles Éditions Africaines, Abidjan-Dakar, 1978.

• Ketetigui Jean-Marie, Le Sénoufo face au cosmos, Les Nouvelles Éditions Africaines, Abidjan - Dakar, 1978.

• Kientz Albert, Dieu et les génies : récits étiologiques senoufo (Côte d’Ivoire), SELAF, Paris, 1979.

• Laget Elisabeth, Bestiaire et Génies : dessins sur tissus des Sénoufo, Linéales, Quintette, Paris 1984.

• Ouattara Tiona Ferdinand, La mémoire senufo : bois sacré, éducation et chefferie, Association ARSAN, Paris, 1988.