Here in rural Ivory Coast, I find that there are “modern” villages and traditional villages. The difference is that modern villages follow the government hierarchy for their affairs, people speak the local language but also French when they want/need to, they have a clinic, and a mill. Traditional villages ground the grains by hand, have a witch that cures everything from a headache to a broken heart, not everybody speaks French, they have the elder who fixes all disputes in his terrace with the two parties sitting next to each other and they still practice their traditional practices such as having a mask house and doing chicken sacrifices every week. Some villages are a combination of both.
In the Yacouba traditional villages, the neighbourhoods are by families, for example, there is the Smith neighbourhood where the parents have their house, each of the children and their families their own house, all different houses but all the houses in the same area. Then the Robinson neighbouhood and so on. Then each family has a house of masks: it is a house with a pointy roof, where the family masks are kept. The masks keep the spirits of the family ancestors and in special ceremonies when somebody wears that mask is to invoke that deceased person’s spirit. But mostly the masks are in their house and people in the family go and talk to them. Then there is a guardian to guard the masks house. And that is all he does, his family brings him food there and I guess if he gets bored, he can go in and have a chat with the masks. And if anybody wants to talk with the masks they have to ask access to the guardian. Then every Friday all the family (all the Smiths, all the Robinsons and so) get toghether in their sacrifice rock (each family also has one of them) to sacrifice a chicken in thanksgiving for the blessings received that week (rain, a baby born, harvest, etc).
When I learned all that I thought: wow! that is sooooo different!
Then at the Catholic mission, the sister there is giving a stamp of Dominique Savio (the patron saint of difficult pregnancies) to a parishioner and explaining her the process of lightening up a candle in a particular way, and then read the prayer in the back, and then when the baby is born well, to make an donation according to her possibilities to a Salesian mission. The sister is very devote of that, she has a full album of parish girls and their babies who have been part of that saint club of fans. And as I was listening to all that, I was thinking: well, this is not too different from the masks. And then I thought: and also, not too far either from the Aztec or Mayas sacrifices to Tlaloc the god of the rain…
Maybe we are not that different after all, maybe it is all human nature, period.
More on African village life:
1) Kirikou: A beautiful, wonderful, funny 1-hour cartoon of a West African folk tale “Kirikou” available in Youtube with subtitles in English. Great for all ages.
2) Binta and the Great Idea: A UNICEF-funded documentary of village life and human rights in rural West Africa through the eyes of Binta, a little girl. Subtitled in English, 30 mins.