Friday, 22 October 2010

The Moro-Naba ceremony, but no photos please

Friday morning, 6 am.

My iPhone alarm goes off. I'm not an early riser, but my colleague has convinced me that a must-see in Ouagadougou is the Moro-Naba ceremony that takes place every Friday morning at the Moro-Naba Palace. The Moro-Naba is the king of the Mossi, the largest ethnic group in Burkina Faso which makes about 40% of the population. It's a traditional ceremony and not something put on for tourists. Importantly, photos during the ceremony are strictly forbidden so that in itself makes me curious.

CC photonka
Still yawning and bleary eyed we set off to find the palace for this intriguing weekly ritual. We were told to leave early as the ceremony starts around 6.30 am. We're the first ones to arrive on the dusty grounds, but soon enough we're joined by several groups of "Nasara" (white) tourists.

Time goes by... 7.00... 7.15... 7.30... but not much happens… without our morning coffee we're starting to become a little impatient. Then, a lone servant saddles up a horse and begins decorating it elaborately. OK now surely it's going to start! Um, no. Back to clock watching and not much happening.

As 8.00 draws closer the crowd begins to draw in. Old Peugots and Mercs begin pulling up and drop off what appears to be important Mossi elders clad in beautiful long robes, red round hats and carrying traditional wooden objects. Some more arrive at full speed on their tuned-up mopeds. They greet each other with great reverence and sit on the ground according to rank: in the first row sit the Moro-Naba's spokesman and his chief ministers and, behind them, other dignitaries in descending order of seniority. Then Moro-Naba appears, dressed in red, the symbol for war. Suddenly we hear a crack as a cannon is fired. Now I'm definitely awake. From where I'm standing I can't quite make out what's happening, but the king's most senior subjects approach His Majesty to pay their respect. The Naba then retires in a mud hut, while his horse is unsaddled and takes off at a brisk trot.

A few minutes later the Moro-Naba reappears, dressed all in white (a sign of peace), and with that, the gathered crowd jumps back on their motorbikes and zooms off to tend to their days' business.

The whole ceremony is over in less than 15 minutes. And the story behind the ceremony? Well as my colleague told me, the Ouahigouya Mossi had stolen the Ouagadougou people's main fetish - an object of special powers. As the king was about to head to war, his ministers persuaded him to hold back while they try to recover the fetish. So this ceremony every Friday is a small celebration of peace. I've also read that the Naba's subjects are subsequently invited to the palace for a drink; millet beer for the animists and a kola nut concoction for the Muslims. Apparently the Moro-Naba then gives audience and hands down his verdict on local disputes and petty crimes. Maybe we should have stayed a bit longer, but like everyone else in the crowd we too had to take off for work and the millet beer can wait until sundown.

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