ALTERNATE NAMES: Ivorians
LOCATION: West Africa (Côte d'Ivoire)
POPULATION: 14.7 million
LANGUAGE: Approximately 60 ethnic languages, including Akan; Mandé; Gur (Voltaic); Kru; Dioula (the most widely spoken); Baoulé (Akan); Sénoufo (Voltaic); Yacouba (south Mandé); French (official language)
RELIGION: Islam; Christianity (both incorporate traditional indigenous beliefs)
Côte d'Ivoire (Ivory Coast) is a French-speaking country in West Africa. A number of important kingdoms existed in this area from early times. Early trade with Europe was based on ivory, which gave the country its name—Côte d'Ivoire in French or Ivory Coast in English. The French firmly settled themselves in the region in the mid-nineteenth century. In 1893, Côte d'Ivoire became a French colony, and gained its independence in 1960. The country keeps a close relationship with France.
Côte d'Ivoire, a roughly square-shaped country, is located on the Gulf of Guinea. Covering 124,500 square miles (322,000 square kilometers), it is slightly larger than the state of New Mexico. Most of the country consists of a low plateau, sloping gradually southward to the Gulf of Guinea. The plateau is broken by hills in the North and by the Man Mountains in the West.
The population of Côte d'Ivoire was approximately 15 million in 1997, and it is growing very fast. The capital, Abidjan, has a population of about 2.8 million. More than sixty ethnic groups make up the population of Côte d'Ivoire. Each has its own distinct language or dialect (variety of a language) and customs.
The official language of the country is French. It is spoken mostly in the cities and towns and is used in higher education. However, the masses of the people prefer pidgin (popular) French, called Dioula. All of the country's approximately sixty ethnic languages belong to the Niger-Congo family. However, even the most widely spoken language is spoken by only about 23 percent of the population.
Each ethnic group has its own traditions and heroes. One of the most famous legends tells the story of how the Baoulé people arrived in Côte d'Ivoire. In their original homeland, Ghana, they wisely had stored grain in case of famine. Then they were attacked by other groups when famine came. Rather than give up the food, their queen, Abla Pokou, led her people west into Côte d'Ivoire. Finding it impossible to cross the Comoé river, the queen sacrificed her own child to the genies (spirits) of the river. They, in turn, caused the trees to bend over the river and form a bridge to a land of peace and safety. The word baoulé means "the little one dies."
Most people in Côte d'Ivoire follow traditional African religions. They honor their ancestors and believe in the spirits of nature. Even followers of Islam and Christianity often combine traditional practices with their religious rites. Sorcery and witchcraft have a strong impact on people, especially in the rural areas. Traditional ceremonies often involve wearing masks. Animal sacrifices and other kinds of sacrifice sometimes play an important role in the ceremonies.
August 7 is Independence Day. Both Christian and Muslim (Islamic) holidays are celebrated: Christmas, Easter, and Pentecost; and Eid al-Fitr (the feast at the end of the fasting month of Ramadan ) and Labaski, which occurs seventy days after the end of Ramadan.
Each ethnic group has its own traditions. The major transitions of life—birth, adolescence, marriage, and death—all are marked with ceremonies and rituals. Among the most important are initiation rites. During initiation, participants undergo endurance tests and other secret ceremonies.
Many marriages are arranged, although in the towns and cities more young people now choose their own spouse. Marriage usually takes place early, especially for women and especially in rural areas. Motherhood thus begins at a young age. By age fourteen almost one-half of the girls are married. Divorce and separation are not common.
Funerals are central to several ethnic groups. Among the Akan, when there is a death in a village, all villagers shave their heads. Among the Baoulé, burial is secret, even for someone as illustrious as the first president, Felix Houphouët-Boigny (1905–93).
Hospitality and solidarity are a way of life for Ivoirians. The spirit of hospitality and brotherhood is expressed in the Ivoirian national anthem: "land of hospitality … the homeland of genuine brotherhood."
Men clearly dominate interpersonal relationships. Village elders are traditionally accorded much respect.
Living conditions vary enormously between city and rural dwellers, and according to people's wealth.
Most people still live in villages, usually with dirt roads. Although increasing numbers have electricity, many still live in simple, traditional ways, fetching their own water and firewood. Their houses are cone-shaped and have thatched roofs.
Less than half the population lives in towns and cities. Those who are well-off live in pleasant two-story or three-story houses. Some live in air-conditioned skyscrapers. But most people are poor and live mostly in overcrowded slums without running water, electricity, or other modern conveniences.
Customs regarding family life vary from one ethnic group to another. Households usually consist of an extended family. Parents and children, grandparents, uncles, aunts, and cousins all share the same home. The average Ivoirian woman has more than seven children. Women are responsibile for taking care of the children.
The law in Côte d'Ivoire allows a man only one wife. In practice, however, almost one-fourth of the men in the country have two or more wives.
As in most of the developing world, people wear both traditional and Western clothes. In cities and towns, most people wear Western clothing—pants or blue jeans and shirts. However, many women still wear the traditional brightly colored dresses (pagnes) with matching head scarves. Traditional clothing is most common in the rural areas. Women wear pagnes or blouses with long pieces of cloth that they wrap around themselves as skirts. Men wear shorts or wrap short pieces of cloth around their bodies. Many men have long, beautiful robes for ceremonial occasions.
Yams, plantains, rice, millet, corn, and peanuts are staple foods in Côte d'Ivoire. However, each region has its specialties. For example, in the northern savanna (treeless plain), a common dish is rice with a peppery peanut sauce. Closer to the coast, fish with fried plantains is popular.
The national dish is fufu. Plantains, cassava, or yams are pounded into a sticky dough. It is then served with a highly seasoned meat or vegetable sauce called kedjenou. Fufu is eaten by hand. Each person takes a fingerful of dough and dips it into the sauce. The sauce may be prepared from peanuts, eggplant, okra, or tomatoes.
The Ivoirian educational system is an adaptation of the French system. Primary school, which is required, lasts for six years and high school for seven. Children usually start school at age seven. High school education is divided into two stages. The first four years lead to a certificate called the brevet d'étude du premier cycle ( BEPC ). At the next level, graduates earn the baccalauréat. This is roughly equivalent to one or two years of university study in the United States.
Higher education is offered at the university in Abidjan. There are also a number of technical and teacher-training institutes.
Music, dance, and storytelling are all important in the lives of Ivoirians. There is great variety in dance in the various regions of the country.
Mask dancing is traditionally done by males who have undergone initiation rites. It includes a wide variety of twists, turns, twirls, and handstands, sometimes on tall stilts. The dancer's identity is disguised throughout the ceremony.
Ivoirian theater includes works by playwrights such as Bernard Dadié, Côte d'Ivoire's most famous writer, and François-Joseph Amon d'Aby. The best-known political figure is Félix Houphouët-Boigny. In 1960, he became the country's first president. Houphouët-Boigny wanted a continuing close relationship with France. He promoted agriculture and led Côte d'Ivoire's economy to great success until the 1980s. In spite of charges of government corruption and his expensive lifestyle, Houphouët-Boigny was respected and honored until his death in December 1993. He was succeeded by Henri Konan Bedié.
Over half the population works in agriculture, a far smaller proportion than in 1960. About one-third of the population works in service-related jobs—more than double the proportion in 1960. A much smaller proportion of the labor force (10 percent) works in industry. These workers process foods and other raw materials and produce goods such as textiles and machinery.
By far the most important sport in Côte d'Ivoire is soccer (called football ). It is played throughout the country.
Ritual ceremonies serve partly as recreation and entertainment. They often include music and dance. Storytelling is another favorite traditional pastime. Griots (story-tellers) may sing or tell folk stories, riddles, and proverbs far into the night.
Movies and theater are also important. Television and radio provide recreation for more and more people, especially in the cities.
The art of Côte d'Ivoire is among the most outstanding in West Africa. Weaving, woodworking, and sculpture are practiced widely. The wooden carvings, and especially the masks, of ethnic peoples are famous for their beauty and complex designs.
Carving doors, furniture, statues, and other decorative objects form part of people's daily lives. Percussion and stringed musical instruments are also made, as well as various wind instruments of wood, metal, and animal horn.
Many of the current social problems in Côte d'Ivoire arise from difficult economic conditions. Those who live in poverty lack adequate housing and schools, as well as decent health care, clean water, and electricity. Poverty has also resulted in an increase in crime, including violent crime, which is found especially in cities such as Abidjan. Unemployment is severe in the cities.
Côte d'Ivoire also suffers from one of the highest rates of AIDS and HIV infection in Africa.
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