I Still Go To School

on teaching, learning, travelling

Know Thyself

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Tuesday to Thursday we had a teacher’s conference at school, the first one for me to ever participate in. It was productive, and in general everybody felt it helped them to improve their teaching and to know the students better. Also it helped to get misunderstandings out of the way and find a common goal and purpose again: to help the kids achieve the best they can and to support them on every possible level.

Wednesday was free, so our secretary, Gloria, invited me and some Japanese missionaries to visit the Museum of Civilisations Cote d’Ivoire. I was excited about finally getting some input about the history and culture of the place, for the first time NOT from the outside, but in the country itself. I vividly remember going through the Slavery Museum in Liverpool and seeing handcuffs, chains and little figurines from Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire. It was impressive and depressing at the same time. I felt so sorry, yet angry, for what had been done.
I was really curious how the locals would present their own history, interpreting it from their own perspective. How did they cope with their past, and what do they focus on?

Here we are in front of the building. It is part of a small botanical garden in Plateau, one of the most expensive neighborhoods in Abidjan.

entrance to the museum

entrance to the museum

We got our own tour guide, who spoke a bit of English. Halfway through the tour he said he had to leave, so he was replaced by another guide, who spoke a bit less English. Both of them were enthusiastic about the African heritage and the objects displayed in the museum, but neither seemed to have studied them properly. Officially, we were not allowed to take any photos, until he asked us to take a picture together.

the group with the elephant skull and ivory, the symbol of ivory coast.

the group with the elephant skull and ivory, the symbol of ivory coast.

sneaky shot of two tribal war masks.

sneaky shot of two tribal war masks.

The mask in the center has bullets on the rim, but our tour guide dated it “yes, maybe 15th century”. The mask on the right is worn when there is a fire in the village. The mask to the left is also a war-mask, ornated with fur and skin of wild animals. It’s not necessarily the eldest or village chief who wore the mask, but someone who has gone through the required rituals.

Goddess of fertility

Goddess of fertility

There used to be a kind of polytheism. Every need you had, you carve a statue and pray to it. This one is used when a woman seems to be infertile. She needs to sleep separate from her husband for one night, with the statuette next to her. Whichever tribe you belong to, your corresponding god will be different. A Baoulé god of fertility is different from a Beté god, and you cannot use theirs. So, since I do not belong to any of the African tribes, none of the gods would help me!

currency of old

currency of old

Before the introduction of the franc by the French occupation, little objects like these, made from copper, were used for trade.

car of old

car of old

Being a king always has had it’s little comforts. This is a king’s “car”, carried by his slaves on the top of their heads. This was the only way of travelling for high-borns, no mounts such as horses or mules.

to every king, his throne

to every king, his throne

Throne with the brush symbolizing spiritual power, the sabre symbolizing military power, and the crown symbolizing political power. Everything used to be golden, but unfortunately the museum was looted during the recent civil war.

dowry for a happy marriage

dowry for a happy marriage

“If you wanted to marry, you could have as many wives as you wanted, it only depends on your pockets. It is still the same, now”

, our tour guide commented. These dowries made from copper were rather expensive. The massive thing on the left is a bracelet, btw.

“Cause if you like it you should have put a massive bracelet on it!”. Reminds me a bit of these leg shackles, and probably had about the same effect 😉

What is marriage to you?

The other dowry is an axe, symbolizing that you will protect your new wife from any harm. Both in symbol and monetary worth, these dowries meant a lot.

Attieke and Chicken! My favourite African food!

Attieke and Chicken! My favourite African food!

After the visit, we had lunch at the museum’s restaurant, which was about the same size as the museum itself. The food was definitely not disappointing!

It was strange to see such a little place supposedly representing what has been some great empire before. Little to nothing had been said about slavery, or the times of the Ashanti empire, to which the Arkan people of Cote d’Ivoire belonged as well. It was an interesting exhibition, but there are great lacks in both the knowledge of the tourguide (everything was “maybe 15th century”) as well as the size of the exhibition. It helped to at least get a little more insight into the culture and the spiritualism of West-Africa, and to see why still today there are places where this spiritualism, Voodoo and Juju are practiced. Our tour guide even went so far to say that,

“This is Africa’s big problem, that Christianity and Islam have replaced the original religions.”

Is it really a problem? How strongly is the African identity connected with this spiritualism and the tribe mentality? Is there an ambivalence now concerning which identity to choose? Is there a future for African culture, or will people still be judged on how europeanized (= civilized) they are? Or maybe there is a need for an entirely new identity?

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