About the Senufo tribe

map of the tribal clusters of Cote d'Ivoire

map of the tribal clusters of Cote d’Ivoire

Location: Northern Cote d’Ivoire

Population: 600,000

Language: Senufo (Voltaic)

Neighboring Peoples: Gouro, Yaure, Baule, Malinke, Bamana, Bobo, Lobi, Kulango, Toussiana, Dan, Bete

Types of Art: All Senufo art is made by specialized artisans, which may diminish regional stylistic differences. Figures representing the ancestors are common, as are brass miniatures and small statues, which are used in divination. There are several types of masks used by the Poro society.

History: The Senufo are made up of a number of diverse subgroups who migrated into their current location from the north during the 15th and 16th centuries. Unlike their neighbors to the north they have remained relatively sheltered from intrusive cultures including the Songhai and Hausa. Although they have certainly borrowed knowledge from their neighbors, they have not had to fear constant attacks and social upheaval.

Economy: Senufo agriculture is typical of the region, including millet, sorghum, maize, rice, and yams. They also grow bananas, manioc, and a host of other crops that have been borrowed from cultures throughout the world. Small farm animals such as sheep, goats, chickens, guinea fowl, and dogs are raised. Minimal amounts of hunting and fishing also contribute to the local economy. Labor is divided between farmers and skilled artisans, and while it was once thought that these segments of society did not intermarry, Glaze’s observations noted that there was a degree of flexibility to this notion.


Political Systems: Senufo towns can range in size from about 50 up to 2,000 inhabitants. They are divided along ethnic lines which are tied to a particular matrilineage. These divisions (katioula) reflect the economic and social status of each lineage within the community and include farmers (Fono), blacksmiths (Kule), carvers (Kpeene), or brass casters (Tyeli, responsible for making divination ornaments), or leather workers. There are four societies which educate and govern the actions of individuals. They are Poro, Sandogo, Wambele (“the sorcerers’ society”), and Tyekpa, which is found only among the Fodonon.

Religion: There are a number of revered ancestor and bush spirits among the Senufo. Maleeo and Kolotyolo (“Ancient Mother” and “Creator God”) represent a dualistic deity. Kolotyolo is not approachable and can only be reached through Yiriigifolo or Nyehene. In the region of Kufulo, Maleeo is represented by the sacred drums before whom all thieves and murderers are brought for trial. The Poro society is reserved primarily for men, although young girls and postmenopausal women are permitted to join. The main function of Poro is to guarantee a good relationship between the living world and the ancestors. Nerejao is an ancestress who is recognized as the true head of the Poro society. Divination, which is governed by the Sandogo society, is also an important part of Senufo religion. Although Sandogo is usually considered a women’s society, men who are called to the profession and inherit through the matrilineal line are permitted to become diviners.