Identification. The Mossi are the most prominent ethnic group in the modern nation of Burkina Faso (formerly Upper Volta). They are also well known in the anthropological literature as a society with an especially high rate of labor migration to neighboring countries. They are noted historically for their resistance to the regionally dominant Islamic states and missionaries, although their culture shows numerous Islamic influences.
Location. The traditionally Mossi areas expanded at the moment of French conquest (1896-1897) from the central core, or so-called Mossi plateau, of Burkina Faso. There are also significant numbers of Mossi in Ivory Coast (where they are the second-largest ethnic group) and in Ghana. The core area, however, is approximately 11°30′ to 14°00′ N and 0°00′ to 3°00′ E. Names and boundaries of local government units have changed repeatedly in the modern era; Mossi country can be defined generally as the area of Burkina containing the cities of Ouahigouya, Kongoussi, Kaya, Koudougou, Ouagadougou, Manga, Tenkodogo, Koupela, and Boulsa.
The Mossi states were well placed for trade; they were "inland" from the great bend of the Niger River, where the empires of Ghana, Mali, and Songhay rose and fell. At the same time, they were north of Asante and the other Akan states that come to prominence as trade shifted from transSaharan toward European outposts on the coast.
Because of the proximity of Mossi country to the more prosperous (at times) economies of Ghana and Ivory Coast, the relatively dense Mossi population, and the poverty (in colonial and postcolonial economic terms) of Burkina Faso, very substantial numbers of Mossi have drawn upon their precolonial trade and frontier traditions of movement, working and even settling in neighboring countries.
Demography. The Mossi make up approximately half of the population of Burkina Faso. The national censuses of 1975 and 1985 did not report national statistics for ethnicity. The 1961 sample survey reported 49 percent of the population of the then Upper Volta to be Mossi. If that figure is carried forward to the 1985 population of 7,964,705, there would then be some 3.9 million Mossi. The 49-percent figure, apart from deriving from a 10-percent sample, was often suspected of having been politically manipulated to deny the dominant ethnie group in the new country formal majority status. Therefore, a figure of 4 million or so Mossi should be considered the minimum. The 1994 CIA World Factbook estimates the population of Burkina Faso as 10,134,661 in July of 1994; that same source estimates the Mossi population as 2.5 million, lower than the 4.96 million that is 49 percent of the 1994 estimated population. Given that estimates of the Mossi population of Burkina Faso residing outside the country as labor migrants at any one time range as high as 20 percent, a higher figure is plausible.
Linguistic Affiliation. The name of the Mossi language was usually written as Moré, although the 1976 national standards stipulate "Moore." It is also encountered as "Molé" or, in more recent works, "Mooré." Labeled "Mossi" in Greenberg's classification (1963), it is a member of the Voltaic of Niger-Congo; "Molé-Dagbané" is also found as a label for the grouping. In recent scholarship, "Moore" is placed in the Oti-Volta Subgroup of the Gur languages; a recent summary notes that "Gur" is common in English and German writing, whereas French scholars more often use "langues voltaïques."