The Senufo also have one of the richest craft traditions in Africa. On their looms they continue to weave cloth as they have always done. The technique of these artisans has remained entirely unchanged. Every day, they weave long strips of cloth, which will later be joined together to make cotton canopies, for a number of different uses.
The swift hands of the men move with the skill that can only be acquired over time, placing the threads of different colours which make up each intricate design. From father to son, to grandson, the art of weaving has been handed down since time immemorial.
Senufo painting is also among the most widely recognised in Africa. Picasso came here, seeking inspiration for cubism, from these artists who expression the visions of the hunters, or the deities of the Poro.
They use vegetable paints made using techniques whose origins are lost in the depths of time. There are three main colours: red, ochre and black, which only stains the canvas if it is applied over the ochre. It is spread without ever tarnishing the white, as if by magic. It could be no other way, here in Africa.
They make no preliminary sketches, but trace the designs directly with rudimentary iron implements.
Freehand, they dry all types of designs, with delicate strokes on the rough cotton cloth, and never making even the slightest mistake.
These canopies are a synthesis of Senufo cosmogony. They depict the deities and scenes from the Poro, like this one, showing the Boloy, the dance of the panther.
The Boloy is a symbolic representation of the Poro, showing the military training of its members. The movements are inspired by those of the panther, the sacred animal of the Senufo.
Initiation into the Poro is obligatory, and lasts for seven years. During this time, the wisest transmit the knowledge of the society to the young men, through words and symbols. All those who complete their initiation at the same time are said to belong to the same colobele, and this will be a bond which unites them for the rest of their lives.
In the public dances, each dancer represents a different colobele, and challenges the others by performing steps and acrobatic movements, demonstrating his training and skill.
They believe in a single god called Kolotyoloo, who gave life to the first human couple. This couple had twins, who were the first human beings born of man, and the Senufo are descended from these. Between god and men there are the spirits of the ancestors, and those of deities such as the python, the messenger from the other world.
The Poro was created in order to defend themselves from enemies and outside influences. Little by little, it gained strength, and became one of the most complex life philosophies in Black Africa. In modern times, the Poro has proven able to resist both Islam and Christianity, and has preserved the Senufo culture almost intact.
Its social content creates a bond and feeling of brotherhood among its members. From the time they begin their initiation, the young men perform agricultural work for the Poro, in the so-called “fields of the nobles”, distributed among the oldest members, and intended to meet the needs of the community.