A journey to a country that only very recently has again become accessible to travellers. An itinerary for real “pioneers” wanting to discover multi-faced Africa: from liana bridges to cathedrals, from tribal masks to initiation dances, from tribal chiefs to sacred monkeys, from traditional hunters’ villages to the skyline of Abidjan, from savannah to forests and the Ocean wild beaches. Every day will be filled with surprises and will take you to genuine, vibrant and colourful traditional ceremonies. For travellers who like unfiltered journeys in Africa.
Arrival in Abidjan and transfer to the hotel.
Domestic flight to Bouake
Domestic flight to Bouake. Arrival and transfer to the hotel. We meet the Baulé people from the Akan lineage originating from Ghana. Their complex craftmanship shows this rich heritage: fine statues representing the world of spirits, sculpted weaving-loom pulleys and beautiful masks. Visit of some villages. We attend the dance of masks, that can be performed for both entertaining and celebrating the funeral of a person of high rank. While celebrating peace and joy, the participants will sing, dance and drink palm wine.
Heading to the north, we leave the main road for a track which will take us to the old town of Kong. The origins of Kong date back to the XII century. Tradition wants Kong to be the origin of the Mandè ethnic group, merchants known all over West Africa as “Diola”. The Diola transformed Kong into an important trading point, halfway between the Sahara salt caravans and the exports from the southern forests (cola nuts, gold and slaves). The mosque of Kong is the best example of traditional Sudanese architecture in the country.
We drive to a remote village to witness the old technique of iron melting carried out by some old blacksmith, a very rare example of traditional iron metallurgy in Africa. This “tribal technology” will bring us back to the first Iron Age in Africa, referring to the prehistory and protohistory of Afro-Eurasia, the time when the dominant tool making material was iron. Arrival in the evening to our comfortable hotel in Korhogo where we will spend two nights.
The Panther Dance
In the morning return to the village to see the result of the fusion. The sealed base of the clay furnace will be broken to extract the iron bloom and the blacksmith will pound part of it. Afterwards, with the aid of a bellows, he will heat the metal powder obtained until it melts in a crucible and he will pour it into a mould. The metal is later heated once again and hammered on the forge to the required shape, which finally will be polished from imperfections and bumps. We have witnessed the whole process leading to the creation of an object. Traditional iron metallurgy is a rare example of an ancient “tribal technology”. For more than 80 years it was believed that this technique had disappeared … up to the discovery of this village! The town of Korhogo is a must for any traveller visiting Ivory Coast northern regions. Its history dates to the XIII century and today it is the capital of the Senufo, the tribe that has produced some of the greatest artworks of Africa, in almost every field: sculpture, weaving, painting and blacksmiths. Visit of the interesting craft market to discover wooden sculptures and textiles showing the traditional Senufo patterns. It is these patterns that have inspired modern artists like Pablo Picasso who also personally travelled to Senufo country to meet and exchange experiences with local artists. Their most spectacular mask dance is the Boloy, known as panther dance, performed by initiated – we will attend it later in the afternoon.
The virgins’ dance
We will leave the main road to discover the village of Niofoin with its clay granaries, decorated with symbolic bas-reliefs, and with a unique sacred house boasting a tall conical roof. The house has painted decorations and sacred objects belonging to the animistic cults, still practiced by Senufo people. Later in the day, encounter with the unmistakable Fulani nomads, constantly in search of pastures for their herds of zebus. In the afternoon, we attend the dance of the virgin girls – called Ngoro, performed by the Senufo and part of the Poro Initiation. The young initiates spend months together in secluded sacred groves where they learn the social and religious secrets that turn a girl into a genuine Senoufo. After seven years there is a big celebration for those who have undergone all stages of initiation, in particular the dance of the virgin girls is performed at the end of the first stage of initiation.
In the region of Odienne we will meet the Malinké, descendants of the old Mali Empire. Its army included the Dozo (initiated hunters) known for their courage and mystic powers. Although there are no longer wars to fight, this lineage continues to get unabated respect and their mystic powers are still passed on through a long initiation process. We will encounter the Dozo and walk in the savannah with them – dressed in their traditional costumes made of “bogolan” fabric and carrying their shotguns covered with amulets. They will give us an interesting introduction to traditional herbal medicines and will take us to a sacred site where, to the growing rhythm of tam-tams, they will dance and give proof of their strength.
The day is dedicated to the encounter with the Yacuba, also known as the Dan. We visit villages built on hillsides and characterized by big round huts with thatched roofs – some of the houses are decorated with frescos made by women during ceremonial periods. Amid scented branches of coffee plantation and in the shadow of an enormous Iroko tree, we visit a large pond inhabited by venerated catfish, custodians of ancestors. Soon the echoes of tam-tams and the shouts of the initiated tell the masks that it is time to leave the sacred forest … so they appear and offer us unforgettable emotions
The rainforest that stretches between Ivory Coast and Liberia is famous for its long liana bridges. Its is shrouded in mystery – tradition says that they are secretly built by young initiated men over the course of only one night! The crossing is not difficult, taboos are respected and no heavy load or babies are carried along. In a nearby tiny village, masks will emerge from the forest towards us.
Rituals in the forest
Vehicles 4×4 will be necessary to discover the remote forest region where the arrival of foreigners is a rare event. The track crosses wooden bridges before reaching the more isolated settlements inhabited by the Guéré ethnic group. The sacred and spectacular masks will dance for the village. Drumming will announce the rare “Jongleurs” performances. Jongleurs are an ancient tradition now vanishing. Initiated girls with their face painted in white Kaolin perform a unique acrobatic dance… In the afternoon we continue to Daloa.
Schedule of days 11 & 12 will be adapted to fit with the events of scheduled festival
A basilica in the Savannah
We attend dancing masks, used in the dance, was created in the 1950s, reportedly inspired by a girl named “Djela Lou Zaouli”. However, stories about the origins of the masks are varied and each mask can have its own symbolic history. In the afternoon arrival in Yamoussoukro, the country’s capital since 1983. It is the native village of Felix Houphouët-Boigny, the first President of the Ivory Coast and one of the greatest independence leaders. He implemented agricultural developments which created a wealthy middle class of planters and farmers. Economic success attracts immigrants from neighbouring Sahel countries and western foreign investors, thus making the Ivory Coast the giant economy of French speaking West Africa. A “child” of the economic boom of 1980s is the Basilica of Notre Dame de la Paix (Our Lady of Peace). According to the 1989 Guinness Book of Records, its width of 150 m. made it the largest Christian religious building in the world (Saint Peter’s in Rome is “only” 115 m. wide).
African metropolis: skyscrapers & lagoons
Drive to Abidjan. If we look beyond the lagoon, the “plateau” (the City District) is growing very fast, not horizontally as in most African towns but vertically, with its large modern buildings and skyscrapers. The modern City District is defined to the west by the harbour and its endless queues of people waiting for a ferry, and to the east by the incredible silhouette of Saints Peter & Paul Cathedral. When we admire the skyline, only the Statue of Liberty seems to be missing, however this is Black Africa, not Manhattan! The visit begins with a short ferry trip for a general view of the “plateau”, a waters perspective. Drive to Grand Bassam
Grand Bassam is an old town built on a sand bank between the lagoon and the ocean. It was the former capital of the French Ivory Coast colony and now is a maritime leisure resort for the Abidjanese. Thanks to its calm avenues shaded by tall trees, large bougainvillea and well-preserved colonial buildings, Grand Bassam has a magic atmosphere. The old post office is a jewel of French colonial architecture. The Costume Museum, in the former governor’s palace, with its large outer staircase is a true architectural gem and its unique collection of tribal costumes, masks, ornaments and ethnographic photographs gives an interesting perception of the country history and culture. Transfer to the airport for the flight out. End of our services.