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.
SACRED FORESTS OF IVORY COAST
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.
BOYS’ INITIATION CEREMONIES
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 GENITAL MUTILATIONS
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.
GIRLS’ INITIATION CEREMONIES
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.
SACRED FORESTS, SACRED MONKEYS
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.
PUNISHMENT TO THE INTRUDERS
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.
FARMERS AND ILLEGAL SETTLERS ON THE SACRED FORESTS LEFT HOMELESS
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.
THREATS FROM COCOA PRODUCTION
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.
RELIGIOUS AND ETHNIC HARMONY
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 BAULE CEREMONY
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.
THE GOLI DANCE
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
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 TOURISM INDUSTRY
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.