Senufo oddities: The whistle


Quite often, objects of daily use receive a design at the Senufo culture. We know beer spoons or the heddle pulleys that have little Tugubele statues or the Calao bird featured. The Senufo love elegance, so beside the fact, that these features have a spiritual meaning of protection or wisdom, the carvers intention is to create a beautiful object with an own esthetic.

At first view, I thought to hold a humble paint brush in my hand. Having a closer look, this light stick turned out to be a whistle. A female Tugubele statue is carved on top. Her legs are used as free space for the mouthpiece to create the sound. The tied raffia fibres are persumibly placed to keep insects like flies away from the herdsman or his animals.


The Senufo are mainly farmers. Beside practising the agriculture of yams, peanuts, rice and millet, they farm animals in addition. Large herds of rich farmers are tended by the Fulani tribe, a subgroup of the Senufo. All animal species, such as cattle, sheep and goats, are kept together without separating them according to their species (Kunst und Religion bei den Gbato-Senufo, Karl-Heinz Krieg und Wulf Lohse, page 12).


This whistle, which got collected by priests of the "Pères Blancs" mission before 1970 in Burkina Faso, could be just functional. Certain cuts and a hole in the limb would create the same function. But what I admire on this small accoustic device (and on all Senufo items in general), is that so many objects of daily use are always created with an artistic awareness. But there is always a typical design that makes something admirable, individual and that shows identification with the tradition of its own culture. This whistle is not just a whistle, it is a Senufo whistle.


Senufo whistle. Collected before 1970 by priests of the "Pères Blancs" mission, Burkina Faso.

23,5 x 2,0 x 2,5 cm, wood, raffia.



Wenn Urform Form bestimmt, Markus Ehrhard, page 86 - 87.




 Content and images by Markus Ehrhard