Tour to Ivory Coast: At The Heart Of West Africa
From liana bridges to cathedrals, from colored masks to initiation dances,
from sacred monkeys to kingdoms of gold, from communities of hunters to the skyline of Abidjan,from endless cocoa plantations to relaxing green lagoons.
Particularly, we will attend masks’ performances by Guere, Senoufo and Baule tribes.
We will be introduced into the magic world of Dozo hunters (Malinke) and Komians (Akan).
- Duration: 11 days
- Guide: English speaking
Arrival in Abidjan, meeting with the local guide at the airport and transfer to the hotel. Free time to relax.
Between tradition and modernity
If we look beyond the lagoon, the “plateau” (the City District)is growing very fast, not horizontally as in most African towns but vertically, with its large modern buildings and skyscrapers.
The visit begins with a short boat trip for a general view of the “plateau”, a waters perspective. Then from the extremely lively market of Treichville we move to the peaceful and quiet “Cocody”, an elegant residential area . The national museum, housed in a decrepit colonial building, presents a fine collection reflecting the rich artistic heritage of 62 ethnic groups. We proceed to the new quarter of Youpugon, not far from the Banco River forest and the “Fanico”, the famous clothes washers.
The Akan lineage
In the morning we meet the Baulé, a tribe of the Akan lineage originating from Ghana. Their complex craftmanship shows this rich heritage: fine statues representing the world of spirits, sculpted weaving-loom pulleys and beautiful masks. Visit of some villages.
We attend the dance of Goli masks. It can be performed both for entertainment and for the funeral of a person of high rank. The round-shaped “lunar” Goli wooden mask is surmounted by two horns.
In the afternoon we drive to the north, leaving the main road for a track taking us to the old town of Kong.
The origins of Kong date back to the XII century. This ancient kingdom emerged as a trading center when the merchants from the Mali Empire began trading in the territory of the Senufo people. Tradition wants Kong to be the place which gave its origins to the Mandé ethnic group, merchants known all over West Africa as “Diola”. The Diola transformed Kong into an important trading point, halfway between the Sahara salt caravans and the exports from the southern forests (cola nuts, gold and slaves). The mosque of Kong is the best example of traditional Sudanese architecture in the country.
Drive to a remote village to witness the old technique of iron melting carried out by some old blacksmith, a very rare example of traditional iron metallurgy in Africa. This “tribal technology” will bring us back to the first Iron Age in Africa. The iron ore comes from some local mines in the form of deep pits and it is milled manually. The traditional “adobe bellows furnace” is loaded with layers of charcoal and layers of ore then the fire is set – we can now leave the furnace since the fusion will take till the following morning. Iron smelting techniques are secret and always associated to taboos and initiations. The blacksmith is endogamous, meaning that only those born into blacksmith families are eligible for the long apprenticeship into the craft.
The panther dance
In the morning return to the village of the traditional smelting to see the result of the fusion. The sealed base of the clay furnace will be broken to extract the iron bloom and the blacksmith will pound part of it. Afterwards, with the aid of a bellows, he will heat the metal powder obtained until it melts in a crucible and he will pour it into a mould. The metal is later heated once again and hammered on the forge to the required shape, which finally will be polished from imperfections and bumps. We have witnessed the whole process leading to the creation of an object.
The town of Korhogo is a must for any traveller visiting Ivory Coast northern regions. Its history dates back to the XIII century and today it is the capital of the Senufo, the tribe that has produced some of the greatest artworks of Africa, in almost every field: sculpture, weaving, painting and blacksmiths. The Senufo are renowned for their complex initiation rites. The initiation of young men, is a long process which takes 21 years to be completed. It is the passage from youth to adulthood and it consists in learning the social and religious secrets that turn a young boy into a genuine Senufo man.
Their most spectacular mask dances is the Boloy, or panther dance, performed by initiated – we will attend it later in the afternoon.
The virgins’ dance
Today encounter with the unmistakable Fulani nomads, constantly in search of pastures for their herds of zebus. The Fulani can be easily recognized by their conical straw huts, the walking stick they always carry over their shoulders, the water bottle hanging around their neck, the machete in their hands and their proud posture. These nomads seem to come from nowhere and head nowhere. Accustomed as they are to a hard life and to its simple joys, they look perfectly fine with the little they carry. They are the true gentlemen of these endless savannahs.
Late in the afternoon we attend the dance of the virgin girls – called Ngoro, performed by the Senufo and part of the Poro Initiation. The young initiates spend months together in secluded sacred groves where they learn the social and religious secrets that turn a man into a genuine Senoufo. After seven years there is a big celebration for those who have undergone all stages of initiation, in particular the dance of the virgin girls is performed at the end of the first stage of initiation.
We will meet the Malinké, descendants of the old Mali Empire. His army included the Dozo (initiated hunters) reputed for their courage and mystic powers. Although there are no longer wars to fight, this lineage continues to get unabated respect and their mystic powers are still passed on through a long initiation process. Today they are considered a sort of local police, guardian angels watching over villages, mediators of disputes and of course great healers. We will encounter the Dozo and walk in the savannah with them – dressed in their traditional costumes A. They will give us an interesting introduction to traditional herbal medicines and will take us to a sacred site where, to the growing rhythm of tam-tams, they will dance and give proof of their strength.
The day is dedicated to the encounter with the Yacuba, also known as the Dan. We visit villages built on hillsides and characterized by big round huts with thatched roofs – some of the houses are decorated with frescos made by women during ceremonial periods.
Amid scented branches of coffee plantation and at the foot of an enormous Iroko tree, we visit a large pond inhabited by venerated catfish, custodians of ancestors. Soon the echoes of tam-tams and the shouts of the initiated tell the masks that it is time to leave the sacred forest … so they appear and offer us unforgettable emotions.
The rainforest that stretches between the Ivory Coast and Liberia is famous for its long liana bridges, the origin of which is shrouded in mystery – tradition says they are secretly built by young initiated men over the course of only one night!
In the late afternoon, we enjoy a short excursion to the Gbepleu rainforest with its sacred monkeys . In the Ivory Coast, behind each city, neighbourhood or village there are always hidden sacred rainforests which are places of passage between the human and the magic worlds. It is in forests that young men are initiated into the social and spiritual secrets of their tribe, thanks mainly to the use of masks (secretly hidden at the base of tall trees).
In a nearby tiny village, masks will emerge from the forest towards us. In the cosmogony of the Guéré people, there is a creator god that communicates with humans only through its intermediaries, the masks: during the mask dance the distance between the human and the spirit worlds disappears.
A basilica in the Savannah
In the afternoon arrival in Yamoussoukro, the country’s capital since 1983. It is the native village of Felix Houphouët-Boigny, the first President of the Ivory Coast and one of the greatest independence leader.
A “child” of the economic boom of 1980s is the Basilica of Notre Dame de la Paix (Our Lady of Peace). According to the 1989 Guinness Book of Records, its width of 150 m. made it the largest Christian religious building in the world (Saint Peter’s in Rome is “only” 115 m. wide). And with its 7,763 square meters of stained glass it also boasts the biggest stained glass section in the world. Its architecture was inspired by St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome and today the Basilica is still a fervent place of worship in Catholic Africa.
In Yamoussoukro cars drive in wide boulevards constantly trying to avoid big pot holes and free roaming chickens! During the visit our attention will also be caught by the huge government buildings, the lofty 14-floor high hotels and the artificial lake which is inhabited by caimans.
We drive south towards Abidjan and arrive at the Ebrié Lagoon on the Atlantic Ocean. Grand Bassam is an old town built on a sand bank between the lagoon and the ocean. It was the former capital of the French Ivory Coast colony and now is a maritime leisure resort for the Abidjanese. Thanks to its calm avenues shaded by tall trees, large bougainvillea and well preserved colonial buildings, Grand Bassam has a magic atmosphere.
Continuation to Abidjan. Some day-use rooms are available and later transfer to the airport for the flight out.