This study deals with the cultural construction of the forest by focusing on a group of farmers in Burkina Faso. It explores forest perceptions among Lyela farmers living in the vicinity of the Tiogo Forest Reserve through an analysis of cultural notions, specific historical circumstances and daily practices. Forest discourses articulate the process by which people's perceptions of forest resources are shaped both by religious and cultural notions of how to behave towards spirits, ancestors and human beings, on the one hand, and by sociopolitical and economic practices of how to make a living on the other. In search of nyo—that is, food, new farmland and a better living—people handle at least three layers of apparently contradictory conceptions of the forest. First, they follow the way of the ancestors according to which the Earth is sacred. Second, they cope with the legacy of colonial and post-colonial state administrations and particularly the Forestry Office. Third, they deal with market demands and the making of money by cotton cropping and woodcutting. The study concludes that these different layers of perception need to be understood as part of a present-day social struggle in which the Lyela farmers are engaged.