Mossi Language and Culture

  • February 02, 2021      Friendly Borders Staff

Ouagadougou The Mossi (also known as the Mosi or Moore people) live within the massive plateau of Burkina Faso. They are the major ethnolinguistic group that has flourished in the land for centuries. Nowadays, there are also significant numbers of native Mossi living in other parts of West Africa, most notably in Mali and Togo.

Geographically, the communities of the Mossi are located in the savannah of Burkina Faso. The region is characterized by grassy lands in the north that gradually turns into a more sparse forest in the south. This geographical setting opened opportunities for the Mossi people to be acquainted with various African ethnic groups. They have Mali to the north and west, Niger to the northeast, Benin to the southeast, and Côte d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast), Ghana, and Togo to the south.

Historically, the Mossi people were organized into three kingdoms: Tenkodogo, Ouagadougou, and Yatenga. However, throughout centuries of migration, their communities spread and even became the second-largest ethnic group in the Ivory Coast. Such migration and growth have also influenced the continuity of the people’s cultural practices and language usage. The Mossi also absorbed other indigenous people, including the Gurma and Yarse. The Yarse were originally of Mandé origins but have since assimilated the Mossi language.

The Mossi language, also known as Mòoré, is similar to many African and African-influenced languages. It belongs to the Niger-Congo language’s Gur branch. The language’s form and usage are close to the spoken languages of the Mamprusi and the Dagomba of northern Ghana.

Upon a closer analysis of the Mossi language, it is evident that it uses tones or specific pitch changes to signify meaning, as well as indicate tense and aspect. They kept their culture, beliefs, and language intact through constant use and practice. It is evident in the people’s names and how they use their language to signify an important event associated with their birth.

The members of the Mossi indigenous group do not randomly select names for their children. Their given names refer to events that may have happened during the pregnancy or childbirth. For instance, it may indicate the day or week of the person’s birth: Zuma or Arzuma means Friday. There is also the name Lokre, which indicates that a child is born at the end of the month-long fast of Ramadan. Moreover, this naming practice serves as a distinct aspect of the Mossi people’s identity. Some names indicate sacred places or entities whose protection was sought by the parents for their child.

Aside from the importance of language within the Mossi life, there is also a distinct cultural heritage that people pass from generation to generation. One interesting trait of the Mossi people is their use of proverbs and folktales. They use proverbs as a means to engage in discussion and debate. Their proverbs do not simply serve as a traditional literary means of passing on wisdom but a medium to show their collective wisdom and experience as a society.

Another distinct aspect of their culture is their love of music, which they use for entertainment and even work. With the use of drums, people set rhythms for their work. An interesting detail in this unique custom is that the drums used in these events can only be made and played by a specific clan. In addition, only members of this same clan can make pottery within the society.

Image from Eve Lavigne,

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