The dominant ethnic tribes of present-day Côte d’Ivoire began arriving in the region at the beginning of the 17th century C.E. The Kru tribe migrated to Côte d’Ivoire from Liberia in 1600; around the same time the Lubi and the Senoufo arrived from Burkina Faso and Mali and established settlements. The Akan people, including the Malinke from Guinea and the Baoulé from Ghana, did not begin migrating to Côte d’Ivoire until the 18th century. Portuguese explorers reached the coast in the 15th century and began trading in slaves and ivory, but European penetration into the interior was delayed until the 1830s. The first French contact in the region was in 1637, when French missionaries landed at Assinie along the Gold Coast (modern-day Ghana) and began spreading Christianity. They made contact with tribes in Côte d’Ivoire but had little success among the local tribes, which did not welcome foreigners. In the mid-19th century the fighting among tribes over territorial issues gave the French an opportunity to establish their presence in the region. During the period 1843–44 French Admiral Bouet-Williaumez signed a number of treaties with the kings of Assinie and Grand Bassam (a city in Côte d’Ivoire). He offered them French protection against their rivals and declared these regions a French protectorate. More French missionaries, explorers, and traders began arriving in Côte d’Ivoire, and soon the entire region was completely dominated by the French. On March 10, 1893, Côte d’Ivoire was declared a French colony, and Captain Louis Gustave Binger (1856–1936), the French explorer who explored the Gold Coast region extensively, was appointed the first French governor of Côte d’Ivoire. Binger led the fight against the Malinke chief Samori Ture (c. 1830–1900), who strongly opposed French rule in the region. In 1898 French forces captured Samori Ture and largely quelled the Malinke rebellion, although the Baoulé tribe continued guerilla warfare against French forces until 1917. Between 1904 and 1958 the French colony of Côte d’Ivoire was an important part of the Federation of French West Africa along with Niger, Senegal, Guinea, Upper Volta (Burkina Faso), Mauritania, Dahomey (Benin), and French Sudan (Mali). During this period the local inhabitants were forced to work on plantations for long hours under abusive conditions. Production of coffee, cocoa, and palm oil crops steadily increased until the region became a major exporter of coffee, cocoa, and bananas in West Africa. The brutal treatment meted out by French forces caused discontent among the inhabitants and sowed the seeds of the independence movement. In 1944 Félix Houphouet-Boigny (1905–93), the son of a wealthy Baoulé chief and a cocoa farmer, formed the first agricultural union of African cocoa farmers in Côte d’Ivoire. Known as the Syndicat Agricole Africain, it championed the cause of local farmers and the people of Côte d’Ivoire. After World War II Baoulé was elected as a representative of Côte d’Ivoire in the French National Assembly, and during his tenure (1946–59) he played a significant role in abolishing forced labor in Côte d’Ivoire by bringing the woes of its people to the notice of the French leaders. Houphouet-Boigny also served as the first African minister in the French government for a term of three years. In December 1958 Côte d’Ivoire was granted autonomous status within the French Overseas Community, and in April 1959 Félix HouphouetBoigny was sworn in as the prime minister of Côte d’Ivoire. On August 7, 1960, Côte d’Ivoire obtained complete independence from French rule, and Houphouet-Boigny was sworn in as the first president of the independent nation. Abidjan, a commercial center, was named the political capital of Côte d’Ivoire. During his tenure as president HouphouetBoigny introduced pro-agricultural policies, and the country’s economy thrived. Coffee production increased, and Côte d’Ivoire became the third major producer of coffee after Brazil and Colombia. By 1979 Côte d’Ivoire had assumed the rank of the world’s leading coffee producer, as well as the leading African exporter of palm oil and pineapples. Côte d’Ivoire’s success in agriculture earned it the title the “Ivoirian Miracle.” Houphouet-Boigny, however, was an authoritarian leader, and there was no freedom of the press in Côte d’Ivoire under him. He declared Côte d’Ivoire a one-party state, and his party, the Parti Democratique de la Côte d’Ivoire (PDCI), controlled the government. He spent millions of dollars in the development of his village Yamoussoukro and made it the new capital of Côte d’Ivoire. The economy of Côte d’Ivoire suffered immensely after the country was hit by a series of droughts in the early 1980s. In addition crime and corruption in Côte d’Ivoire increased steadily, adding to the woes of the president. Meanwhile in order to deal with recession, Houphouet-Boigny took loans from the international monetary organizations. Yet the country’s economy did not improve, and Côte d’Ivoire’s international debts mounted. Despite growing discontent among the citizens Houphouet-Boigny remained president until his death on December 7, 1993. His successor was Henri Konan Bédié (b. 1934), Houphouet-Boigny’s loyal deputy. Under his rule all opposition party leaders were sent to jail, and all the military officers who did not agree with his policies were dismissed. On December 24, 1999, Bédié was ousted in a coup led by Robert Guéï (1941–2002), a former military commander, who had been dismissed by Bédié. This was the first coup d’état in Côte d’Ivoire. As president Guéï promised the people that democracy would be restored in the region by 2000. He ran in the 2000 elections against the presidential nominee of the Front Populaire Ivoirie (FPI; Ivoirian Popular Front), Laurent Gbagbo (b. 1945). However when Gbagbo was declared victorious, Guéï refused to step down as president, and many people were killed, including citizens of other countries, in the riots that erupted all over the city. The worst single act of mob violence occurred on October 26, 2000, in Blokosso Village and resulted in the deaths of at least six men, including one Guinean. Another presidential candidate and a Muslim opposition leader was Alassane Outtara (b. 1942). He had been disqualified from the presidential elections by the Supreme Court of Côte d’Ivoire because of his Burkinabé nationality. (Only one of his parents is a citizen of Côte d’Ivoire.) Muslims in the northern parts of the country violently protested this decision, and riots broke out. On September 19, 2002, troops in the northern parts of the country rebelled against Gbagbo’s government and gained control of a major part of the country. Hundreds of innocent people lost their lives in the fight between government forces and the militias, which included mercenaries and warlords from neighboring Liberia and Sierra Leone. The international community took notice of the situation, and France sent peacekeeping forces into the region. In January 2003 a peace agreement was signed between rebel leader Guillaume Solo and the president of Côte d’Ivoire Laurent Gbagbo. It stipulated that a united government would be formed in Côte d’Ivoire with equal representation for the rebels. But the rebels did not keep their promise to disarm their forces until October 15, 2004. Côte d’Ivoire has remained divided between the rebel forces and the government, and the region has continued in a state of quasi war. On November 6, 2004, nine soldiers of the French peacekeeping forces and an aid worker were killed in an air strike by Côte d’Ivoire. In retaliation French forces launched an air strike at Yamoussoukro and destroyed all the airplanes belonging to the Ivoirian Air Force. French nationals in the cities of Abidjan and Yamoussoukro were evacuated by French forces after fighting broke out between the French peacekeeping forces and local Ivoirians. Widespread protests against French forces continue in Côte d’Ivoire, and the government of Laurent Gbagbo remained on the sidelines, its hands full dealing with the economic slump, rebels, and regional violence. Although named Côte d’Ivoire by the French, the nation has also been known, in other languages, as Ivory Coast (English), Elfenbeinküste (German), and Costa de Marfíl (Spanish). In October 1985 the government appealed to the international community to address the nation uniformly as Côte d’Ivoire.
Located in Western Africa Côte d’Ivoire is flanked by Guinea and Liberia to the west, Ghana to the east, Burkina Faso and Mali to the north, and the Gulf of Guinea (North Atlantic Ocean) to the south. Topographically Côte d’Ivoire is flat, except for the Man region in the western part of the country, which is marked by a number of small hills. The Ébrié Lagoon begins at the Ghanian border and covers the eastern coast. This is the most densely populated area of the country. The Sassandra, Bandama, and Komoé are the main rivers in Côte d’Ivoire. Mont Nimba, which rises 5,750 feet, is the highest mountain in the country. The northern parts of the country experience semi-arid weather conditions, while the southeastern parts enjoy an equatorial climate, and the central parts have a tropical climate. The three main seasons of Côte d’Ivoire are: warm and dry (November to March), hot and dry (March to May), and hot and wet (June to October).The annual average temperature is 79°F. However humidity drops progressively from the coast toward the north. Thus while the south experiences an average relative humidity of 85 percent, humidity in the north is only 71 percent.
More than 70 percent of the country’s population is engaged in agriculture, which is the main source of revenue and the backbone of the nation’s economy. The country’s principal exports are cocoa, coffee, pineapples, tuna, and tropical woods (timber). Côte d’Ivoire continues to be one of the world’s largest producers and exporters of coffee, cocoa beans, and palm oil, despite the devastating droughts in the 1980s. Such exports have enabled the government to repay a considerable portion of Côte d’Ivoire’s foreign debt. Côte d’Ivoire has an excellent infrastructure, with road networks, rail connections, and telecommunication services. This facilitates its connection with neighboring countries, making Côte d’Ivoire the preferred choice of other West African countries for establishing trading posts for their operations. The government’s policy of encouraging direct foreign investment has also played a major role in reviving the economy of Côte d’Ivoire. The ongoing dispute between the rebels and the government has had little impact on the economy. Both sides acknowledge the benefits of a strong economy, and neither side wants to jeopardize the country’s economic health. Although the rebels have captured cocoa plantations in many parts of the country, production remains undisturbed.
In Côte d’Ivoire people belonging to different faiths for the most part coexist peacefully. The government of Côte d’Ivoire also contributes regularly to the development of places of worship for different religions. Between 25 and 30 percent of the country’s population are Christians, while 35 to 40 percent practice Islam. Approximately 25 to 40 percent of the population adhere to traditional animist beliefs. Ivoirians believe in the power of magic and credit it with warding off evil, making juju priests (medicine men) highly sought-after. They give grisgris necklaces (special charm necklaces that keep the evil spirits at bay) and are also fortune-tellers who are often consulted about impending dangers. Among all the ethnic groups in Côte d’Ivoire the Senoufo hold on most strongly to their traditional beliefs. Children are taught about the tribal history and their way of life from a very young age, and they are expected to uphold the values and beliefs of the Senoufo. French is the official language of Côte d’Ivoire, but most tribes prefer to speak their native language. Dioula is the most widely spoken native dialect. Traditional village entertainers, known as griots or praise-singers, make use of musical instruments made from animal skins, gourds, and horns. They sing folk songs, which tell about the glorious past of different tribes and their leaders, as well as comment on the present situation in Côte d’Ivoire. The country is well known for its artistic creations as well, especially masks. The peoples of Côte d’Ivoire produce a wider variety of masks than those of any other African nation, and every ethnic group has its own sets of masks. Masks represent the souls of deceased people, lesser deities, or caricatures of animals. One of the most famous festivals in Côte d’Ivoire is the Festival of Masks (Fêtes des Masques), which takes place in the Man region during the month of November. Villages in the region hold special dance contests in which participants have to wear the masks of their tribes and give dance performances. The purpose of the festival is to pay homage to the forest spirits who are said to be embodied in the special masks as well as to determine and honor the best dancer in the village. The three groups known for their outstanding wooden carvings are the Baoulé (an Akan group that migrated from Ghana into the eastern area of the country), the Dan or Yacouba (a tribe from the rain forests), and the Senoufo (people who migrated from the north in the 17th century).
The influence of neighboring countries on Côte d’Ivoire’s cuisine is evident in the reliance on grains and tubers in the traditional diet. A favorite Côte d’Ivoirian side dish is attiéké, a couscous made from manioc (cassava), which is generally served with fish or kedjenou, a chicken dish cooked with vegetables and sauce. One of the most popular dishes, often available at small, open-air restaurants on the beaches, is maquis, braised chicken and fish smothered in onions and tomatoes. Aloco, another popular dish, consists of ripe bananas cooked in palm oil and spiced with chilies and steamed onions. Aloco can be eaten by itself or with grilled fish. The local palm wine called Bangui is a popular beverage in Côte d’Ivoire. BIRTH
The birth of a child is a time for joy and religious celebrations in Côte d’Ivoire. When a woman becomes pregnant children in her family and the village are expected to respect her and treat her well. This special treatment is meant to ensure that during her pregnancy she is not disappointed or frightened by any person or situation. Neighbors cook special meals for her, because good food is considered important to the health of the mother and child. Ivoirians also believe that if she is not fed properly the pregnant woman will either have a miscarriage or her child will be born with scars all over its body. Tradition in Côte d’Ivoire requires that the women return to her mother’s house in the seventh month of pregnancy. After resting for a minimum of one month after giving birth to her child, she returns to her husband’s house.
The oldest ethnic group in Côte d’Ivoire is the Senoufo group, which supports secret societies responsible for preparing children for adulthood, educating them about their tribe’s folklore, history, culture, and way of life. The Poro cult is for the boys, and the Sakrobundi cult is for the girls. The education period lasts for seven years and ends with an initiation ceremony, which includes circumcision for the boys. Initiates perform a ritual dance known as the Dance of the Leopard Men, which completes the transition from childhood to adulthood. In spite of the fact that Côte d’Ivoire has banned female genital mutilation, it is still widely practiced, and it is estimated that 60 percent of the women in the country, including Muslims, have had their clitorises excised. Girls in the 4- to 15-year age group have their clitorises removed in the belief that doing so builds character and helps them become better women and wives. Among the Dan tribe circumcision takes place during the rice-harvesting season. Girls who have been excised are considered the pride of their families and are showered with gifts and new dresses. The mask used in the rites of passage for teenagers is that of Djoanigbe, who is looked upon as a guide, teacher, and source of enlightenment in the lives of the young people. There are two ways by which a person can learn to use the mask: through birth into a mask family or through nomination to be a mask-wearer. If the ancestors have chosen a child to become a mask-wearer, then the parents of the child are expected to recognize this and provide guidance to their child to follow the command. Only initiated men are allowed to wear the masks and can only pass the secret on to another initiated man—never to a woman. The initiation ritual lasts for seven days.
After the completion of the initiation ceremony, a girl is considered ready for marriage. Arranged marriages are the norm in this country, and relatives play a central role in suggesting good matches. The prospective groom’s family arrives at the bride’s house with the marriage proposal. If the bride and her family accept the proposal, then kola nuts (an indigenous nut found in Africa, also used in making cola drinks) are presented to the bride’s family, after finalizing the bride-price. Different tribes have different marriage ceremonies; however, payment of bride-price is a common factor in all marriages. In some tribes on the day of the wedding, the groom and his family, dressed in their best clothes, arrive at the bride’s home with clothes, shoes, and other gifts, which are neatly wrapped. Then they make the payment of the brideprice. Kola nuts and sweets are exchanged between the two families, and the celebrations begin. In the meantime the bride, wearing a beautiful wedding dress and a veil covering her face, is surrounded by her friends and female relatives in her room. In the evening as the time of the wedding ceremony nears, the bride is escorted to the wedding area by an elderly woman. Here the bride sits barefoot on a stool, and the elderly woman wipes her face with a cloth dipped in gourd juice. Then using a sponge and straw, the woman scrubs the arms and legs of the bride. In the background women sing wedding songs accompanied by clapping and dancing. After the elderly woman cleans the bride she helps her get off the stool, and the wedding is complete. The bride is then escorted back to her room by women, and a few minutes later the groom enters the room and takes her to his house.
In Ivoirian cultures funeral rites are based on the notion that those who die and are buried make the Earth fertile with their souls. Hence the soil belongs to the ancestors. The tribes in Côte d’Ivoire bury their dead in accordance with their tribal rituals. Among the Senoufo tribe the presiding priest of the funeral ceremony wears a Kpelie mask and leads the funeral procession, escorting the spirit of the deceased to the land of the dead. The tribes in Côte d’Ivoire believe that after death the deceased takes the form of a spirit and along with other ancestral spirits becomes the guide and protector of its people. Hence special sacrificial offerings are made to these spirits on special occasions, such as death anniversaries and festivals, to show respect as well as to seek their blessings and protection against evil.