People & Culture

A melting pot of people

Call us Burkinabe

A citizen of Burkina Faso is known as a Burkinabe (in French, spelt with an è or sometimes with an é).

More than 60 ethnic groups live in Burkina Faso, speaking a variety of different languages and dialects.

The Mossi are the largest group and make up half the population. The Fulani are the second largest, forming around 8% of the population.

French is the official language and widely spoken in the towns and cities. However, in the countryside many people use the local languages, such as Moore/Moré (pronounced ‘more-ray’) spoken by the Mossi, Dioula (pronounced ‘Jula’) a trading language of West Africa and Fulfulde, the language of the Fulani in the north.

‘Burkina Faso’ means ‘Land of Honourable/Incorruptible Men’. ‘Burkina’ is a Moore word meaning ‘honour’. ‘Faso’ is the Dioula word for ‘fatherland’. The Fulfulde language is reflected in the term ‘Burkinabe’, because ‘be’ is its plural for people. This use of all three main languages symbolises the unity of the country.

Intermixing

Moving around is common and Burkinabes are used to intermixing. Wherever they live, Burkinabes have a strong sense of community and feel it's a duty to help each other.

Unlike neighbouring countries which have experienced wars or unrest (Ivory Coast, Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea), Burkina’s people live in relative harmony.

Tolerance for people of different religions is high. More than half of Burkinabes are Muslim and around 15 percent Christians (mainly Catholic). Many Burkinabes also hold traditional animist beliefs in spirits.

Music and film

Group of boys playing traditional instruments in Burkina FasoOuagadougou is thought of as the African capital of cinema and Burkinabes love their films. Open air cinemas are popular and the country’s own film-making industry dates back to the 1960s.

Music is also a central part of the country’s culture and many people learn to play an instrument, such as the kora (a kind of guitar), djembe (drums), baorgo (horn) or balafon (xylophone). Instruments are made locally from native trees and plants.

The half skin of a calabash (a large gourd or squash) makes the banjo-like body of the kora. The calabash is also used below each wooden length of the balafon, where it acts as a resonator for the sound of this xylophone. Listen to the amazing sound of balafon in the Music feature video.

Horses are golden

In some areas of the country, Burkinabes could be called the ‘cowboys of West Africa'. Horse-riding is important in the culture of certain groups.

The Fulani are particularly proud of their horses and have a saying – "a horse is your wife, your car, your colleague, your best friend".

The Mossi believe their country came into existence when the princess Yennenga fled her father’s kingdom on a horse.

At the annual film festival of Fespaco (Festival Panafrican du Cinéma et de la Télévison de Ouagadougou), the top award for a film about Africa is the ‘Gold Stallion of Yennenga’.