CÔte d'Ivoire

Culture Name


Alternative Names

Republic of Côte d'Ivoire; République de Côte d'Ivoire


Identification. Often called the "jewel of West Africa," Côte d'Ivoire has been a model of economic prosperity and political stability for its neighboring African countries since its independence in 1960. In the fifteenth century, French and Portuguese merchants in search of ivory named the region the Ivory Coast for its abundance of the natural resource. The country changed its name to Côte d'Ivoire in 1985; its official name is the République de Côte d'Ivoire —a reflection of French control of the country from 1843 until independence. Today, the nation's rich economy lies in juxtaposition to its turbulent political climate. Whether Côte d'Ivoire will continue its rich history of socio-economic development amidst this unstable political climate remains uncertain as of late 2000.

Location and Geography. Côte d'Ivoire occupies approximately 124,500 square miles (322,460 square kilometers), an area slightly larger than New Mexico. Located on the south coast of West Africa, it borders the North Atlantic Ocean, with Liberia and Guinea on the west; Mali and Burkina Faso on the north; and Ghana on the east. The country is made up of three distinct geographic regions: the southeast is marked by coastal lagoons; the southern region, especially the southwest, is densely forested; and the northern region is called the savannah zone. The population of Côte d'Ivoire is ethnically diverse and delineated by the places the more than sixty indigenous ethnic groups live, although this number is often reduced to four major cultural regions—the southeast, sometimes referred to as the Atlantic East (Akan), the southwest, sometimes referred to as the Atlantic West (Kru), the northeast/north-central (Voltaic), and the northwest (Mande). The official capital is Yamoussoukro; Abidjan is the administrative capital. The country's three largest population centers are Abidjan (2.6 million), Daloa (1 million), and Man (957,706), and almost one-half of the country's population is concentrated in the urban cities of Abidjan and Bouaké.

Demography. The current population estimate is approximately 16 million. The largest group is the ethnic Baoule, who comprise over 23 percent of the population. Other significant ethnic groups include the Bete (18 percent), Senufo (15 percent), and Malinke (11 percent). The remaining population is comprised of the Agni, Africans from other countries (mostly Burkinabe and Malians), and non-Africans (primarily French and Lebanese). Of the more than 5 million non-Ivoirian Africans living in Côte d'Ivoire, one-third to one-half are from Burkina Faso; the rest are from Ghana, Guinea, Mali, Nigeria, Benin, Senegal, Liberia, and Mauritania. The country's population growth rate, estimated to increase at 3.8 percent per year, has led to rapid growth and a population of which almost half is under fifteen years of age.

Linguistic Affiliation. French is the official language used throughout the country, however there are over sixty native languages. Four of the major branches of the Niger-Congo language are spoken among Ivoirians, including the Kwa, Atlantic, Mande, and Voltaic. Language areas correspond closely to the four cultural regions of the nation. Agni and Baoule, both Kwa languages, are the most widely spoken languages in the south. In the north, variants of Mande and Senofu are the most widely spoken, but are also heard in almost all southern trading areas. No single African language is spoken by a majority of the population,

Côte d'Ivoire
Côte d'Ivoire
and most Ivoirians speak two or more languages fluently. French is used in schools and business and is spoken more frequently by men than by women. Arabic is taught in Quranic schools, which are most common in the north, and is spoken by immigrants from Lebanon and Syria. Many Ivoirians understand English, which is taught in high school and the National University of Côte d'Ivoire, but English is not a language of choice, even among the educated. Almost half the adult population is literate.

Symbolism. The most prominent symbol of Côte d'Ivoire is its national emblem, which depicts a shield displaying the profile of an elephant's head, surrounded by two palm trees, with the rising sun above the head and a banner bearing the words République de Côte d'Ivoire beneath it. The country's flag is a vertical tricolor of orange, white, and green; orange represents the savannahs of the north, green represents the forests of the south, and white represents unity. The national anthem is L'Abidjanaise, which means "Greetings, O Land of Hope."

History and Ethnic Relations

Emergence of the Nation. Very little is known about the early history of Côte d'Ivoire. As early as 1 C.E. , the area now called Côte d'Ivoire had become a melding place of various African people. Between the fourteenth and eighteenth centuries, as kingdoms rose and fell, many ethnic groups moved in and settled permanently in the region. France made its initial contact with Côte d'Ivoire in 1637, and in the eighteenth century the country was invaded by two related groups: the Anyi and the Baoule. In 1843 and 1844, the French government signed treaties with the kings of the Grand Bassam and Assinie regions, placing their territories under a French protectorate. The French gradually extended the area under French control until they dominated in 1915.

Today, the sixty distinct ethnic groups that make up the Côte d'Ivoire are loosely grouped into four main cultural regions which are differentiated in terms of environment, economic activity, language, and overall cultural characteristics. Most representatives of southeast cultures are Akan peoples, descendants of eighteenth-century migrants from the kingdom of Asante. The largest Akan populations in Côte d'Ivoire are the farming communities of the Baoule and the Agni. Smaller groups live in the southeastern lagoon region, where contact and intermarriage between the Akan and other groups have resulted in a multicultural lifestyle. Dependent on fishing and farming for their livelihood, they are not organized into centralized polities above the village level. The southwest Kru peoples are probably the oldest of Côte d'Ivoire's present-day ethnic groups, the largest tribe of which is the Bete. Traditional Kru societies were organized into villages that relied on hunting and gathering for sustenance, and they rarely formed centralized chiefdoms. In the north, descendants of early Mande conquerors occupy territory in the northwest, stretching into northern Guinea and Mali. The Mande peoples are comprised primarily of the Malinke, Bambara, and Juula. To the east of the Mande are Voltaic peoples. The most numerous of these, the Senufo, migrated to their present location from the northwest in the sixteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Amidst the settling of these unique cultures, the peoples of Côte d'Ivoire have been influenced by the French. The Ivory Coast became an autonomous republic in the French Union after World War II, and achieved independence on 7 August 1960. As Côte d'Ivoire has emerged as a nation—amidst colonization, exploitation, native revolts against the French, the prominence of French culture, and finally independence—its people have lived in ethnic diversity, strong economic prosperity, and a cultural mosaic. Only in the latter part of the twentieth century did several decades of political tensions culminate with the country's first coup d'etat.

National Identity. Since their independence the people of Côte d'Ivoire began to develop a national consciousness. Most of the country's people consider themselves Ivoirians first, and then as members of a particular ethnic group. Yet the concept of a national identity is complex. National boundaries reflect the impact of colonial rule as much as twenty-first century politics, bringing nationalism into conflict with centuries of evolving ethnicity. Each of Côte d'Ivoire's large cultural groups has more members outside the nation than within, resulting in strong cultural and social ties with people in neighboring countries.

Ethnic Relations. For the most part, the multiethnic groups live together in harmony, with certain group tensions. Conflict between the majority Muslims and native peoples exists, and societal discrimination on the basis of ethnicity is sometimes practiced by members of all ethnic groups. According to the U.S. State Department Country Report on Human Rights, differences between members of the Baoule group and other ethnic groups, especially the Bete, are a major source of political tension and have erupted repeatedly into violence, most recently in 1997. During the latter part of 1999, tensions arose between several Ivoirian and non-Ivoirian ethnic groups.

Urbanism,Architecture, and the Use of Space

Côte d'Ivoire is a juxtaposition of the urban and rural. Its cities, particularly the fashionable Abidjan, are replete with modern office buildings, condominiums, European-style boutiques, and trendy French restaurants. They stand in sharp contrast to the country's many villages—accessed mainly by dirt roads—whose architecture is comprised of huts and simple abodes reminiscent of an ancient time. While the cities are described as crowded urban enclaves with traffic jams, high crime rates, an abundance of street children, and a dichotomy of rich and poor, the villages are filled with farmers tending their fields, native dress, homemade pottery, and traditional tribal rituals. Most traditional village homes are made of mud and straw bricks, with roofs of thatched straw or corrugated metal. The Baoule live in rectangular structures, while the Senufo compounds are set up in a circle around a courtyard. High fences surround many Malinke village of mud-brick homes with cone-shaped straw thatched roofs. The artistic Dan paint murals with white and red clay onto their mud-brick homes.

Food and Economy

Food in Daily Life. In Côte d'Ivoire, grains such as millet, maize (corn), and rice and tubers such as yams and cassava make up most meals. These staples are complemented by legumes such as peas, beans, or peanuts, and smaller quantities of vegetables, oils, spices, and protein—usually meat or fish. Women prepare the grains by grinding them in large wooden bowls with long wooden pestles. For the most part, the family meals are cooked outdoors in ceramic or metal pots on stone hearths. Ivoirian food is very spicy and eaten with the hands. Well-known dishes consist of rice with a pepper-flavored peanut sauce, which is found in the northern savannah; and fish and fried plantains, served in the coastal regions. The national dish is foutou (also spelled futu ) a thick, heavy paste made of mashed plantains or yams eaten with a spicy sauce or stew made of fish or meat. Because of its ability to keep well, dried, grated cassava, known as gari, is a popular food. Côte d'Ivoire's most popular culinary treat, maquis, normally features braised chicken and fish in onions and tomatoes. Favorite drinks among the villagers include palm wine and home-brewed beer.

Food Customs at Ceremonial Occasions. Food plays an important role in the ceremonial and religious ceremonies of most native people groups. Feasting and drinking are used in coming-of-age ceremonies, religious ceremonies, and funeral/memorial services. Among the Akan peoples, the most important of these is the yam festival, a time of thanksgiving for good harvests and an opportunity to remember the discovery of the yam. One of Côte d'Ivoire's most famous festivals involving food is the Festival of Masks, which takes place in villages in the Man region every February. Every March, the Carnival in Bouaké is filled with festivities and food. Côte d'Ivoire's major Muslim holiday, Ramadan, is a month-long celebration during which everyone fasts between sunup and sunset in accordance with the fourth pillar of Islam, and then ends the fast with a huge feast. Eid al-Fitr is another Muslim holiday focused on feasts, prayer, fellowship, and gift giving. In native traditions, fetish priests often use food to create magic potions or amulets; the future may be divined by tossing rice grain into a box; certain foods may be forbidden to improve illness or misfortune. Ancestral spirits are offered food and drink before being consulted.

Basic Economy. Despite economic hardship in the 1980s and early 1990s, Côte d'Ivoire is still the most prosperous of the tropic African nations, primarily because of its diversified export goods, close ties to France, and foreign investment. Côte d'Ivoire is among the world's largest producers and exporters of coffee, cocoa beans, and palm oil. Consequently, the economy is highly sensitive to fluctuations in international prices for these products and to weather conditions. Despite attempts by the government to diversify the economy, it is still largely dependent on agriculture. The Ivoirian economy began a comeback in 1994, due to the devaluation of the CFA franc (the Ivoirian currency unit) and improved prices for cocoa and coffee, growth in nontraditional exports such as pineapple and rubber, limited trade and banking liberalization, offshore oil and gas discoveries, and generous external financing and debt rescheduling by France and other countries. According to 1999 statistics, the Gross National Product is $25.7 billion; $1,600 per capita.

Land Tenure and Property. Historically, the government has viewed the use of land as equating ownership. After independence, Ivoirian law on landownership required surveys and registration of land, which then became the irrevocable property of the owner and his or her successors. However, the National Assembly enacted the Land Use Law in 1988, which established that land title does not transfer from the traditional owner to the current user simply by virtue of use. However, in rural areas, tribal rules of land tenure still exist, which generally uphold that members of the tribe that dominates a certain territory have a native right to take that land under cultivation for food production and in many cases cash crops. Throughout the country, land tenure systems are changing from those in which rights are secured by traditional village authorities (communal systems) to those in which land can be bought and sold without approval from customary authorities.

Commercial Activities. Cities and villages feature open markets, where foodstuffs are sold liberally, along with common household items. Merchants deal in locally grown products and few imported items. Additionally, cultural items are often found for sale, including clay pots, masks, drums, baskets, jewelry, and sculpture. In the major cities, including Abidjan and Bouaké, there are speciality shops for

Skyscrapers and office buildings dot the skyline of Abidjan, the main city and former capital.
Skyscrapers and office buildings dot the skyline of Abidjan, the main city and former capital.
dry goods, foodstuffs, hardware, electrical appliances, and consumer electronics. Generally, items are sold on a cash basis, but bartering is common in the smaller villages. Shopkeepers also extend credit to farmers until the end of the harvest season, and vendors allow installment purchases for automobiles and major appliances.

Major Industries. Côte d'Ivoire's major industries include agriculture (coffee, cocoa beans, bananas, palm kernels, corn, rice, manioc [tapioca], sweet potatoes, sugar, cotton, rubber), timber, wood products, oil refining, automobile assembly, textiles, fertilizer, construction materials, and electricity. In 1998, the country's industrial production growth rate was 15 percent. Small manufacturing factories produce food, wood products, cloth, chemicals, cement, lumber, furniture, and corrugated-steel roofing; heavy industries produce air conditioners, freezers, refrigerators, paint, varnish, railroad cars, and heavy metal.

Trade. Historically, Côte d'Ivoire has had strong economic ties with France. During the 1990s, Côte d'Ivoire's principal markets for exports were France and the Netherlands, which purchased approximately one-third of its total exports, a trend that continues today. The United States is the third largest export market, with Italy following. Current statistics indicate that Côte d'Ivoire exports $3.9 billion worth of goods annually, primarily cocoa, coffee, tropical woods, petroleum, cotton, bananas, pineapples, palm oil, cotton, and fish. France, which provides one-third of Côte d'Ivoire's imports, is the country's largest supplier. The United States, Italy, and Germany each supply about 5 percent of the country's imports, which include food, consumer goods, capital goods, fuel, and transport equipment. Due to the 1999 coup, Côte d'Ivoire received only limited assistance from international financial institutions during that year, and the European Union stopped its assistance programs altogether.

Division of Labor. In Côte d'Ivoire, men, women, and children of all ages work. Almost 70 percent of the labor force is engaged in agriculture, livestock raising, forestry, or fishing. Both men and women work in the fields and harvest the crops, while men perform heavier agricultural work, as well as mining, construction, and industrial work. Men dominate civil and military positions, such as police officers, soldiers, customs officials, top-level bureaucrats, and foreign-salaried government officials. Children often work on family farms, and in the cities some children work as vendors, shoe shiners, errand runners, and car washers. Labor legislation is based on the French overseas labor code of 1952, which allows for collective bargaining, trade unions, and a government-set minimum wage, however the majority of the labor force works in agriculture or in the informal sector where the minimum wage does not apply. Forced labor is prohibited by law.

Social Stratification

Classes and Castes. While the growing economy of Côte d'Ivoire has greatly improved the quality of life for some citizens, gross financial inequality exists. High population growth coupled with the economic stagnation of the 1980s and early 1990s resulted in a steady fall in living standards overall. Access to land, housing, secondary education, and jobs are the key determinants of social mobility in Ivoirian society, which allows for a wealthy, urban minority to receive most of society's benefits. The vast majority of the population is poor; 1998 statistics indicate that at least 60 percent of the country's active population is unemployed and most of those who have jobs earn wages that are not enough to cover their basic monthly expenses. When Gross Domestic Product declined by an average 2.7 percent between 1985 and 1990, the proportion of the population in poverty increased from 14 percent to 20 percent. The Ivoirian middle class is still a small minority—primarily traders, administrators, teachers, nurses, artisans, and successful farmers—whose opportunity for social mobility is fairly limited.

Symbols of Social Stratification. Urban housing is a measure of status, since most urban land concessions are granted to people in government and administration and to their relatives and clients. Secondary education is also an important urban resource and vehicle of social mobility. Although primary schools are found throughout the country, secondary schooling is an urban activity, channelling graduates into urban occupations in medical and legal fields. By the 1990s, employment had become the most significant indicator of social status. Like many other nations, consumer goods are another prominent symbol of social stratification, especially for the city population. Among the administrative and civil-servant class, imported cars and clothes, home furnishings, and broad cultural and recreational activities mark a high standard of living.

Political Life

Government. Côte d'Ivoire is a constitutional multiparty republic dominated by a strong presidency. Côte d'Ivoire's Constitution provides for its presidency within the framework of a separation of

Rice planting in the Kohrogo region. Rice is a staple food in the diet of most Ivoirians.
Rice planting in the Kohrogo region. Rice is a staple food in the diet of most Ivoirians.
powers between its three branches: executive, legislative, and judicial. The president is the chief of state; the prime minister is the chief of government. The unicameral National Assembly is composed of 175 members elected by direct universal suffrage for a five-year term. It moves forward legislation typically introduced by the president although it also can also introduce legislation. In June 1998, the National Assembly enacted amendments to the Constitution that diminished the authority of the prime minister relative to the president, authorized the president to annul elections or to postpone announcing election results, extended the presidential term from five to seven years, mandated the creation of a second legislative chamber (senate), provided for the president of the senate to succeed the president in the event of his death or incapacitation, and wrote into the Constitution the presidential eligibility restrictions of the 1994 electoral code. A draft of a new constitution was overwhelmingly approved by voters in July 2000.

State entities exist on several levels, including 16 regions, 58 departments, 230 subprefectures, and 196 communities. At all levels, all subnational government officials are appointed by the central government, with the exception of communities, which are headed by mayors elected for five-year terms, and traditional chieftaincies, which are headed by elected chiefs. The judicial system is headed by a Supreme Court and includes the Court of Appeals and lower courts. The High Court of Justice has authority to try government officials, including the president.

Leadership and Political Officials. Côte d'Ivoire's contemporary political history is characterized by one-party rule and the leadership of President Felix Huphouet-Boigny, leader of the Parti Democratique de la Côte d'Ivoire (PDCI) until his death in 1993. He was one of the founders of the Rassemblement Democratique Africain (RDA), the leading pre-independence inter-territorial political party in French West African territories. Members of a single political party, the PDCI, occupied both the presidency and a majority of seats in the national legislature since independence in 1960, although other parties have been legal since 1990. Massive protests forced the president to legalize opposition parties. Both Houphouet-Boigny and his successor, President Henri Konan Bedie, helped build a nation of political stability and economic prosperity by repressing democratic opposition.

The country's first military coup overthrew President Bedie's administration in December 1999, and Retired General Robert Guei assumed control of the country. After suspending the Constitution, dissolving the National Assembly, and forming the National Committee for Public Salvation (CNSP), which consists of himself and eight military officers, Guie lost the presidential elections of October 2000. The National Electoral Commission announced that Laurent Gbagbo, the leader of the Ivorian Popular Front, won the controversial presidential elections with 59 percent of the vote, ushering in a new era of multi-party legitimacy and the power of free popular elections.

Social Problems and Control. Security forces include the army, navy, and air force, all under the Ministry of Defense; the Republican Guard, a well-funded presidential security force; the national police; and the gendarmerie, a branch of the armed forces roughly equivalent in size to the army, which is responsible for general law enforcement, maintenance of public order, and the country's security, including the suppression of crime and street violence. According to the U.S. State Department, before the 1999 coup, the armed forces were in charge of maintaining civil order. In rural areas, traditional institutions often administer justice at the village level, handling domestic disputes and minor land issues in accordance with customary law. However, the formal court system increasingly is superseding these traditional avenues. In 1996 the government appointed a Grand Mediator to settle disputes that cannot be resolved by traditional means, representing Côte d'Ivoire's trend to bridge traditional and modern methods of dispute resolution.

Military Activity. The Côte d'Ivoire's government invests in its armed forces (FANCI), which include an army, navy, air force, and gendarmerie. In times of national crisis the gendarmerie can be used to reinforce the army. Formed in 1996, the National Security Council upholds both internal and external security policy. The civilian Directorate of General Intelligence is responsible for countering internal threats. A security staff ( L'Etat Major de la Securité ) collects and distributes information about crime and coordinates the activities of the security forces in times of crisis. The Special Anticrime Police Brigade (SAVAC) is also active. Military expenditures totalled $94 million in 1996, or 1 percent of the GDP. Following the coup d'etat, the structure of the military did not change.

Social Welfare and Change Programs

A high population growth rate, a high urban crime rate, a high incidence of AIDS, and a high poverty rate characterize Ivoirian society. Recognizing these issues, in the 1990s the government announced its commitment to implement social welfare and change programs, specifically in the areas of literacy, education, health, women and family development, economic development, and poverty alleviation—with a specific goal of reducing poverty from 36.8 percent of the population in 1995 to 30 percent in 2000. Numerous offices under the Ministries of Public Health and of Employment, Public Service, and Social Security are dedicated to these goals, but their efforts are constrained by a lack of funding and the unique multiplicity of Ivoirian tribes. As a result, many of these policies are coordinated by religious, private, and international organizations—from the far-reaching United Nations to small, specialized groups that work in only one community. The programs they finance and implement include safeguarding human rights, poverty alleviation, infectious disease control, contraception, literacy, and rescuing street children.

Nongovernmental Organizations and Other Associations

Many humanitarian nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) operate within Côte d'Ivoire, including

Christian churches, mosques, and other holy places are important meeting places.
Christian churches, mosques, and other holy places are important meeting places.
the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), UNICEF and other United Nations programs, Prisoners without Borders, and Doctors without Borders. The Ivorian Human Rights League (LIDHO), a domestic human rights NGO, actively investigates alleged human rights violations. Other NGOs such as Amnesty International and the Ivoirian MIFED also monitor government human rights abuses and publish critical reports. Despite this and other criticism, the government has encouraged the formation of NGOs and generally cooperates with them.

Gender Roles and Statuses

Division of Labor by Gender. In rural areas, women and men divide the labor, with men clearing the land and harvesting cash crops like cocoa and coffee, while women grow vegetables and other staples and perform most household tasks. Women also collect water and fuel, care for their families, spin and weave, and produce handicrafts and pottery to sell. In general, men hold most prominent civic and government positions, as well as the role of tribal chief in the villages. Religious roles, from shamans to Catholic priests to Muslim imams, are dominated by men.

The Relative Status of Women and Men. Government policy encourages full participation by women in business, but generally there is a bias among employers to hiring women, whom they consider less dependable because of their potential pregnancy. Women are underrepresented in most professions and in the managerial sector as a whole. Some women also encounter difficulty in obtaining loans, as they cannot meet the lending criteria mandated by banks, including title to a house and production of profitable cash crops, specifically coffee and cocoa. However, women are paid on an equal scale with men in the formal business sector. Men continue to dominate managerial positions and enjoy the most career mobility, usually due to a higher level of education and connections with other businessmen.

Marriage,Family, and Kinship

Marriage. Ivoirian marriages center on the combining of two families. The creation of a new household is significant to wedding rituals. The government abolished polygamy in 1964, and set the legal marriage age at eighteen for boys and sixteen for girls, although polygamy is a widely accepted lifestyle among many native ethnic groups. Additionally, the government does not recognize forced marriage or dowries ("bride prices") paid to the mother's family to legitimize the marriage. Although marriage customs are changing and becoming more Westernized, a large majority engage in traditional native wedding rituals. Divorce, although not common, is socially acceptable among most ethnic groups.

Domestic Unit. Whether the family lives in an urban or rural setting, the extended family is the basic social unit. Despite lineage, men are generally seen as the power head of the household, while women tend to domestic needs and childrearing. In the Baoule village, the women live with their husbands' families; among the Senufo, husbands and wives live separately with men living in rectangular houses and their wives occupying round ones. When girls get married and leave home, it is the responsibility of the sons to care for the elders of the household.

Inheritance. Men dominate inheritance practices in traditional societies. Both Baoule and Senufo people belong to their mother's family group; power and land are passed down through a mother's family line to her sister's sons. In the Bete and Nyula groups, inheritance is passed down to the through the father's line to the sons. In most traditional societies in Côte d'Ivoire, women do not have the right to inherit land, but only to use that of their husbands or families. Legislation was enacted in 1983 to allow women greater control of their property after marriage.

Kin Groups. The family is linked to a larger group, the clan, primarily through lineages. One of the most important kin groups is the patrilineage, a group formed by tracing descent through male forebears to a male ancestor. In eastern Côte d'Ivoire, however, many societies are organized into matrilineage, which trace descent through female forebears to one female ancestor. Both men and women are included in both type of lineage, sometimes five or six generations removed from the founding ancestor, but the linking relatives are of one gender. Lineages generally share corporate responsibility for socializing the young and maintaining conformity to social norms. Lineage elders often meet to settle disputes, to prescribe or enforce rules of etiquette and marriage, to discuss lineage concerns, and preserve the group overall. They also pressure nonconformists to adhere to group mores. Lineages are generally grouped in villages and united as a chiefdoms.


Infant Care. While infant care may vary across cultures, the mother is the primary caregiver, usually with support from older siblings and extended family. The childrearing practices related to the care of the infant include breastfeeding on demand and up to several years, carrying the child on the mother's back, and sleeping with the child, all of which create a close and intimate relationship between the mother and child and security for the child. In most Ivoirian cultures, there is little understanding of the value of interacting with infants, and adults don't really play with children in the traditional Western sense until the child reaches preschool age.

Child Rearing and Education. In Côte d'Ivoire, children are highly valued and play a very special role in perpetuating the family and culture and providing care for other family members. Girls are taught by their mothers, and boys learn from their fathers and other male figures. Overall, children are the responsibility of the community, and when primary caregivers are not available the community creates a system for caring for children. Parental and community goals for children are centered around social and human values, including respect, self-reliance, helpfulness, cooperation, and obedience, and often folktales or stories are used to reinforce these values. The more modern the culture, the more likely there is to be a shift to more materialistic values. Many rural ethnic cultures engage in rituals and initiation ceremonies: for example, the Senufo is a ritual in which every seven years a new group of boys pass through three stages of initiation that are completed when they are in their thirties. Education is free, and primary education is compulsory; however, in the early 1990s only about 1.5 million students annually attended primary schools.

Higher Education. Higher education is very prestigious and available only to a select minority of the population. In the early 1990s, only about 423,000 attended secondary and vocational schools. Secondary education is viewed as an important urban resource and vehicle of opportunity. Although primary schools are found throughout the country, secondary schooling channels graduates into urban occupations. A large proportion of students who enter primary school are eliminated at crucial points in the education ladder, especially as they encounter stringent admissions requirements for secondary schools and universities, but many also drop out throughout the system. In general, students' educational

At the funeral of Nanan Toto Kra, a Baoule Akan, Mossi men dance with calabash rattles. Funerals, held 40 days after death, are important and elaborate ceremonies for Ivoirians.
At the funeral of Nanan Toto Kra, a Baoule Akan, Mossi men dance with calabash rattles. Funerals, held 40 days after death, are important and elaborate ceremonies for Ivoirians.
attainments reflect their parents' level of education.


Often relaxed in character and very polite, Ivoirians always great each other and inquire about a person's health, family, or work. It is considered rude to conduct business without first greeting. Men shake hands with one another; women instead kiss each other three times on the cheeks, alternating sides. At social functions, it is polite to shake hands with everyone upon entering and leaving. Eye contact is usually avoided, particularly between father and child, and it is considered rude to stare. Gift giving is customary, especially to those who are respected in the community.


Religious Beliefs. The constitution guarantees freedom of religion to all citizens. About 60 percent of the population adhere to indigenous beliefs, 25 percent are Muslim, and about 12 percent are Christian (mostly Roman Catholic). Only about 3 percent follow other religions, including some 100,000 Ivoirians who follow Harrisism, a unique Ivoirian Christian religion that upholds a simple lifestyle. Christianity dominates in the south and the center of the country; Islam is predominant in the north and northeast (although many Muslims have moved south in search of work); and indigenous belief systems are present throughout the land. Both Islam and Christianity have been adapted to indigenous religions in a variety of ways, and many Ivoirians who have converted to Christianity still observe rituals that worship the spirits of their ancestors. Most Ivoirian Muslims are Sunni, following the Maliki version of Islamic law. Sufism is also widespread, infused with indigenous beliefs and practices. Beyond these localized versions of world religions, however, are complex systems of belief and practice that incorporate multiple elements of several religions, including animism, fetishism, and witchcraft. According to most local belief systems, spiritual beings—a creator, ancestral spirits, and spirits associated with places and objects—can influence a person's life and play a large role in religious worship and practice.

Religious Practitioners. Each of the main religious traditions has its own practitioners, such as the Christian priests, nuns, and ministers, the Islamic clerics, and the priests and diviners of traditional religions. In Islam, a significant religious authority is the marabout—a miracle worker, physician, and mystic who exercises both magical and moral authority. He is also respected as a dispenser of amulets, which protect the wearer against evil. In the south, Akan religious practitioners include lineage heads, village chiefs, and priests who officiate at ritual observances for cults honoring specific deities. These priests ( akomfo ) also act as diviners, many of whom are believed to be clairvoyant and able to locate the source of spiritual difficulty for their followers, who consult them for a fee. Priests sometimes act as doctors, since many diseases are believed to have a spiritual basis.

Rituals and Holy Places. Collective ceremonies and rituals are important to many indigenous religions, and include ceremonial dancing, ancestor worship sacrifices, mask carving and ceremonies, fetish priest ceremonies, and divination ceremonies. To the Akan, the most important of these is the yam festival, which serves as a memorial service for the dead and asks for their protection in the future, is a time of thanksgiving for good harvests, and is a ritual of purification that helps purge the group of evil influences. Ivoirians conduct rites in a variety of sacred spaces, including a variety of shrines dedicated to spirits, Christian and Roman Catholic churches, and mosques. Missions with churches, schools, and seminaries appear throughout the country. Yamoussoukro is home to the Grand Mosque and the largest church in Africa, the Basilica of Our Lady of Peace.

Death and the Afterlife. The vast majority of Ivoirians believe that a person's soul lives after death. Because often death is considered the transformation of an ordinary human into an honored ancestor, funerals are elaborately celebrated. Relatives spend a great deal of money to provide the proper funeral services and memorials for their loved ones, which usually take place forty days after the death, and involve dancing, drumming, singing, and feasting that goes on for days, even weeks.

Medicine and Health Care

Ivoirians experience a number of health issues, including a large incidence of HIV-AIDS, female genital mutilation (FGM), unsanitary living conditions, unsafe drinking water, and a host of infectious diseases, including malaria, gastrointestinal ailments, respiratory infections, measles, and tetanus. The first case of AIDS was diagnosed in 1985; as of January 1999 the number of AIDS patients reached nearly 40,000. According to the World Health Organization, as many as 60 percent of women have undergone FGM. Studies show that in 1993 only 60 percent of the population had access to health care services, and a little over 80 percent had access to safe water. The average life expectancy is forty-three years for males, and forty-six years for females. Infant and child mortality rates remain high in rural areas, where access to clean water and waste disposal systems is limited, and malnutrition is widespread. An estimated 95 infants per 1,000 births die in their first year of life. Close spacing of births contributes to high rates of malnutrition in the first two years of life.

During the 1990s, the government increased its information, education, and communication regarding health and family planning. Public health expenditures increased steadily during the decade, but the health care system was unable to meet the health care needs of the majority of the population. Medical care for wealthy urban households is superior to that available to rural families. Chronic shortages of equipment, medicine, and health care personnel also contribute to overall poor service, even where people have access to health care facilities. In many rural areas, health care remains a family matter, under the guidance of lineage elders and traditional healers. The World Health Organization and the United Nations Children Fund provide child vaccinations for polio myelitis, diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, tuberculosis, yellow fever, and measles, and vaccinate pregnant women against tetanus.

Secular Celebrations

The Ivorian government recognizes the following holidays: New Year's Day (1 January), Labor Day (1 May), Assumption (15 August), All Saints' Day (1 November), Independence Day (celebrated on 7 December), and Christmas (25 December). Movable religious holidays that vary based on the Islamic lunar calendar include Id al-Fitr and Id al-Adha , as well as the Christian holidays based on the Gregorian calendar, such as Good Friday, Easter Monday, Ascension Day, and Pentecost Monday.

The Arts and Humanities

Support for the Arts. The arts are largely self-supporting, although the government encourages and provides support to dance troupes, artists, writers, and the museum. Village cultural groups receive some government assistance.

Mud and straw homes with thatched roofs are still common in villages.
Mud and straw homes with thatched roofs are still common in villages.

Literature. Côte d'Ivoire has enjoyed a long history of storytelling, primarily because of its high illiteracy rate. By passing on traditional poetry, folktales, and myths, the storytellers, called griots by the Malike, impart societal values, history, and religion. French is the dominant language for written literature, as little exists in native languages. Bernard Dadie is perhaps Côte d'Ivoire's best-known writer to emerge in the twentieth century. He wrote the country's first play, Assémiwen Déhylé , and one of its first novels, Climbié, as well as several other successful works. Other authors have contributed to the vast array of literature from Côte d'Ivoire, including Aké Loba, Pierre Dupré, Ahmadou Kourouma, Jean-Marie Adiaffi, Isaïe Biton Koulibaly, Zegoua Gbessi Nokan, Tidiane Dem, Amadou Kone, Grobli Zirignon, and Paul Yao Akoto. Women entered the literary scene during the mid-1970s with Simone Kaya's autobiographical work. Among the best-known women writers are Fatou Bolli, Anne-Marie Adiaffi, Véronique Tadjo, Flore Hazoumé, and Gina Dick.

Graphic Arts. Indigenous graphic art traditions are found in abundance in Côte d'Ivoire, including wood sculpting, weaving, pottery making, mask making, jewelry making, carving, sculpting, and painting. All traditional Ivoirian art is made first for practical purposes—usually in relation to religious, health, or village matters. Ivoirian artists combine traditional materials—such as wood, ivory, clay, and stone—and folktales and religious or mythical elements to make their art, which often transcends several cultures. Many Senufo and Baoule woodcarvers make art specifically for tourists searching the open markets for souvenirs.

Performance Arts. In Côte d'Ivoire performance art embodies music, dance, and festivals. Music exists almost everywhere—in everyday activities and religious ceremonies—and most singing is done in groups, usually accompanied by traditional instruments. Along with the native melodies of the indigenous groups, Ivoirians participate in more contemporary music from Europe and America. Dichotomies—from the Abidjan Orchestral Ensemble that performs classical music to street rock and roll—can be found in the cities. Traditional dance is alive in ceremonies and festivals, and is usually linked to history or ethnic beliefs. The Senufo N'Goron dance, for example, is a colorful initiation dance where young girls wearing a fan of feathers and imitate birds. Malinke women perform the Koutouba and Kouroubissi dances before Ramadan. The various traditions have unified the masquerade, music, and dance as an expression of the continuation of creation and life, and during these events the mask takes on deep cultural-spiritual significance.

The State of the Physical and Social Sciences

The Ivoirian government is committed to the development of the physical and social sciences. Since 1982, IDESSA ( Institut des Savanes ) and IDEFOR ( Institut des Forêts ) have replaced the numerous commodity-specific agricultural research institutions once active in the country. IDESSA has departments for food crops, industrial crops, and livestock husbandry. IDEFOR's departments research coffee and cocoa, fruit crops, rubber, oil palm and coconut, and forestry in general. Some agricultural and scientific research is also conducted at the National University and at ENSA, the school of agronomy. Both educational institutions have helped to abate the formerly critical shortage of human resources for agricultural research, and both are supported by public funds. The National University of Côte d'Ivoire in Abidjan has faculties of sciences, medicine, and pharmacy, as well as an institute of renewable energy. The French Institute of Scientific Research for Cooperative Development is also located in Abidjan.


Center for Environment and Development in Africa (CEDA). Côte d'Ivoire: Environmental Profile of the Coasts, 1997.

Central Intelligence Agency. CIA World Factbook 2000, 2000.

Cohen, Michael A. Urban Policy and Political Conflict in Africa: A Study of the Ivory Coast, 1974.

Eloundou-Enyegue, Parfait M. Poverty and Rapid Population Growth in Africa: The Links between High Fertility and Poverty at the Household Level, Rand Working Papers in Economics, 1998.

Foster, Philip, and Zolberg, Aristide R., eds. Ghana and the Ivory Coast: Perspectives on Modernization, 1971.

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Grinker, Roy Richard, and Christopher B. Steiner, eds. Perspectives in Africa: A Reader in Culture, History and Presentation, 1997.

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International Monetary Fund. Enhanced Structural Adjustment Facility Policy Framework Paper, 1998–2000, 2000.

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Library of Congress, Federal Research Division. Côte d'Ivoire: A Country Study, 3d ed., 1991.

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Moss, Joyce, and Wilson, George. Peoples of the World: Africans South of the Sahara, 1991.

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Osae, T. S., S. N. Nwabara, and A. T. O. Odunsi. A Short History of West Africa—A.D. 1000 to the Present, 1973.

Rapley, John. Ivoirian Capitalism: African Entrepreneurs in Côte d'Ivoire, 1993.

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Also read article about Côte d'Ivoire from Wikipedia

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