Set between two areas with long histories of state-craft, the non-centralized societies of western Burkina Faso from the start of the colonial era were considered as peripheral, with little to contribute to neighboring important ‘civilizations’ (see Chapter 2). However, the organizational principles and cultural practices that underline fundamental societal differences are remarkably diverse and complex, and communities and multi-family houses can encapsulate social and cosmological principles ranging from communalism to hierarchy, manifesting in both independence and interdependence depending upon the specific activity or circumstance. In this chapter I compare features of four different societies in order to provide a foundation derived from Voltaic logic for reconstructing the material patterns from the archaeological site of Kirikongo. The generalized models of the societies presented below are for analytical purposes, and it is acknowledged that regional ethnicity can be very fluid, such that within a particular ethnic group deviations from normative practice are to be expected. For example, some southern Bwa communities, owing to proximity to Dagari societies, keep cattle, while the practice is rare elsewhere.
The political systems of Burkina Faso have been classified in ethnographic analyses into several categories, including: segmentary societies with centralized power (the Mossi), ‘village societies’ without centralized power (the Bwa), and segmentary societies without centralized power (the Lobi). These divisions are rooted in Fortes and Evans-Pritchard's state/stateless dichotomy (1940), but include the concept of ‘village societies’ introduced by Gallais (1960) and Capron (1973). Within this framework segmentary and village societies are considered two ends of a continuum regarding organizational principles. On one end, village societies are those in which multi-family houses are deeply devoted politically, socially, and religiously to a village community, transcending kin-based politics.