Sacred Forests With Sacred Bridges In Ivory Coast – Unforgettable Traditions

Ivory Coast is located between Liberia and Guinea in the west and Ghana in the east. Mali and Burkina Faso appear in the northern part of Ivory Coast. All these countries are part of sub-Saharan Africa.

The Sacred Forests and the activities that take place there are a typical example of traditional Africa at its best. When people say Africans are mindful of their traditions and customs, you need to see certain traditional ceremonies and agree with them. It is their way of life which they want to preserve in spite of the emerging modern society with its modern ideas and technological advancements. One needs to travel to Ivory Coast and confirm the realities of unforgettable traditions prevailing in some of the African countries.

Magical Mask - Sacred Forests


Media reports confirm that Ivory Coast has remained with ten million hectares out of sixteen million hectares from the time of independence. Nearly every village in the Western and Northern Ivory Coast has its own forest. Such a forest is well-protected by the concerned villagers. The villagers get concerned because of agriculture expansion and illegal settlements mushrooming due to an increase in population.


The sacred forests provide a good arena for important festivities such as boys’ initiation ceremonies. The elders of the villages would not like to see any boy who has not been circumcised to enter such forbidden places as punishment which may be meted out can be grave. Boys are camped inside the forests for a couple of weeks to ensure that the rite of passage from youth into manhood takes place without any disturbances from the prying eyes of the public. There are many activities which take place before the youths are brought for public display in the main village arena where celebrations take place. Drumming and dancing while women ululate is a spectacular sight.


Female circumcision in Ivory Coast takes place with over seventy per cent of girls being victims in the western and northern parts. It is less than fifty per cent in other areas although over eighty per cent men and women would like this practice to be stopped forthwith. However, traditional cutters of the flesh seem to perpetuate this practice making use of the products from the sacred forests.  The aim of female circumcision is to lessen sexual and physical desires in women while promoting the pleasure of the husband. The victims are usually girls below the age of five. No one seems to have data on deaths caused by such “illegal” activities as this is against the law of the land.


Once again the sacred forests provide good shelter during girls’ initiation ceremonies into womanhood. Apart from girls who are celebrating the beginning of their menstrual cycle, other women join them by running into the sacred forest nude. They do this annually to ward off evil spells from bad spirits which may be cast into their community.


With the prevention of indiscriminate cutting of trees in the sacred forests, monkeys which are also regarded as sacred have flourished in abundance. The people are very friendly to monkeys and they feed them regularly thus making it possible for man to live side by side with monkeys. In such places, monkeys are not afraid to approach men and receive gifts such as bananas.


The sacred forests thrive in between streams and some fast-flowing rivers. In order to cross to the other side, sacred bridges are made using one hundred per cent products from the sacred forests. Some people may call such bridges primitive, but to the local people, these bridges are put up with the total blessings of their ancestors who are responsible for their protection and security. Once every year, traditional festivals are organized beside such sacred bridges to remember their ancestors who were taken as slaves in the United States of America. Such ceremonies include the offering of traditionally brewed drinks and the sacrificed chickens and animals to their ancestors. It also involves traditional dancing and the wearing of traditional regalia with mask dancers representing the spirits of the departed ancestors.


Every masked man represents the spirits of the ancestors. Because the masks have been made in the sacred forests, they too, become sacred. With the specially crafted masks, people who wear them become special messengers from the spirit world and must be feared greatly by both great and small. It is believed that the spirits themselves are supposed to punish the offenders entering the sacred forests, but intruders to the forests are reported to the law enforcement officers to mete out the punishment.


Because the people guarding the sacred forests are not supposed to take the law into their own hands, the reported case of intrusion into the forests is not taken lightly. That is why law enforcement officers evicted the illegal settlers most of whom were farmers. They were left destitute and did not draw sympathy from any quarter. The victims were eventually resettled on non- sacred land.


Cocoa production contributes greatly to the economy of the country and as such, the need for more land to increase production cannot be emphasized. This need is now posing a serious threat to the existence of big sacred forests. Negotiations with the traditionalists, is however, taking place with the intention of reducing the sizes of the sacred forests in preference to cocoa production.


From the time of independence, Ivory Coast has been admired by some countries in Africa for its religious and ethnic harmony. The Basilica of Our Lady of Peace is one of the biggest Catholic Church buildings in the Catholic Church, but it only holds a few hundred people instead of the estimated eighteen thousand worshippers due to African Traditional worshippers who shun its presence. In spite of the existence of other religious groupings, there is no religious animosity.

The Basilica of Our Lady of Peace


This ethnic tribal grouping originated from Ghana and settled in Ivory Coast long before the country’s independence. Their skilled craftsmanship includes fine statues representing the world of spirits. They come up with well-woven and strikingly beautiful masks matching well with their stylish dancing displays.


This a stilt dance as the traditional dancers mesmerizes children and women during the traditional ceremonies. The Goli Dance is also performed as part of a funeral activity upon the death of a high ranking person in a village. It is linked to the spiritual world of their ancestors.


The Senufo in Korhogo town has produced from the sacred forests some of the greatest works of art in Africa involving sculpture, painting and weaving. They are strict with the initiation rites of both virgins and young men. They are the ones also renowned for the BOLOY (Panther Dance).


The more people hear about the sacred forests and the traditional activities that take place, the more tourists are attracted to come to the sacred forests or places of ceremonies. The sacred places have also become popular to the extent of making a substantial contribution to the economy of the country. That is why the authorities have to tread their feet carefully not to injure any party.

10 thoughts on “Sacred Forests With Sacred Bridges In Ivory Coast – Unforgettable Traditions”

  1. I have a friend that is operating close to that area and she loves to visit the Sacred Forests. The Ivory Coast is a beautiful place that seems to take you back in time. There are lots of things to do and see, and the images that you have included, when added to the ones that have been shared with me by my friend, paint a vivid picture of a place that is worth a visit.

    How are the accommodations for travelers there? Do they have a mix of hotel price ranges or what do you recommend for a visit there? The language is french and local I believe? That might be an issue for some people, not for me, however. I can get by.

    Thanks for providing an in-depth look at the region, it is a place full of culture and beauty…My friend is always asking me to take some time to get there, perhaps this will be the year based on this article. It has risen on my bucket list of places to visit before I get too old thanks to this article.

    1. Thanks to your friend, you quickly related to the information in this post. Indeed Ivory Coast or Côte d’Ivoire is a wonderful place with wonderful beaches and national parks. It is a country with ethnic and religious tolerance that makes it a nice place to stay. I am glad it is on your bucket list of places to visit in your lifetime. 

      Decent accommodation can be got about two kilometres from the Sacred Forest. It best you make your booking in advance to avoid any last-minute inconveniences.

      You can also visit Zaïpobly village which not only near forests but also near Near Taï National Park, where you can get the full history of the forests from the locals and also get a chance to visit the national park.

      The best time for you to visit Ivory Coast is frim early December and late February. You would not want to visit during the wet season; moments then are not memorable. 

      I wish you well when you take this trip and I hope it turns out to be memorable for you Dave. 


  2. It is sad to read that genital mutilation continues to be actively practised in Africa, This barbaric act need to come to an end as the killing of twins came to an end in parts of Africa many years ago. There is nothing wrong in maintaining cultures but any part of culture which dehumanises people need to stop.

    I have been to Ivory Coast, it is a beautiful country. In the attempt of villagers trying to protect protect the forests, is the economic expansion  of the country not being jeopardised? Thanks for an informative blog.

    1. Kavinah, awareness campaigns are going on in Ivory Coast to sensitise people against infibulation especially in the Eastern and Northern parts of the country. Prominent Civil Society Organisations and other platforms are being supported to support those women that are victims of female genital mutilation. The constitution of the Republic of Côte d’Ivoire forbids this practice and this helps efforts to an end to this undesirable tradition.

      Population growth, wildfires and economic needs have threatened the Sacred Forests. However, efforts to protect these forests are aimed at preserving them as tourist sites, where canopy walkways attract many visitors.
      Traditional healers and researchers also support the preservation of these sacred forests.

  3. This was a beautiful article, it gave me a tour without leaving the couch. while I do think that the upholding of culture and traditions is a beutiful thing. The mutilation of these young girls is a sickening truth of these traditions and ways so heavy on the heart. I can not imagine what long term effects these mutilation has on these girls mentally and physically. Tourism, although great for the economy, I think that the travelers have to be mindful of scared places and be respectful of traditions that are not to our understanding.

    1. Wes, I totally agree with you on the issue of visitors respecting the culture and traditions of Africa, however, we are glad that information now travels faster than never before. Practices like female genital mutilation have been carried out in many African traditional societies and are steadily on the decline due to increase sensitisation and government involvement. 
      I was shocked to discover that much as female genital mutilation started in Northeast Africa, it is being practised in other continents.

      The Sacred Forests have been protected mainly to preserve ancestral traditions but with the emergence of new religions and changes in beliefs, this is likely to change.

  4. When you move around the world you get to realise the amazing statures and cultures……ivory coast is an amazing place to be i think i should organize a visit.
    Would really love to visit the sacred forest and experience its feel of environment…
    Then you so much Edgar for the insight

    1. That you Joy for your kind comment and interest to travel to Ivory Coast. I am sure that you will have a great time there. The infrastructure there is maintained to make it easy for tourists to get around and the towns themselves are easy to navigate. Most hotels you book with have internet and WiFi, which allows you to keep you connected with the world.
      Do not forget to come prepared with additional clothing, bug spray, malaria tablets and a mosquito net.

  5. Please where can the sacred forest be located? I teach English Literature in Abidjan and as a reference in case am asked….

    1. Hello Richiestin, the Sacred Forests are located in Ivory Coast, West Africa.
      As a matter of fact, every village in the Ivory Coast has an area of the nearby forest where the spirits of their ancestors live.
      The video I shared in this article is of the Dan villages, the great Dan villages.

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