People & Culture

Music and tribal culture

Drumming and dancing

Drumming and DancingIn this video... Watch a dance performance, accompanied by the relentless, energetic rhythms of a group of drummers.

Music is an integral part of Ivorian culture and traditionally griots, or story-tellers, would make a musical accompaniment to their entertainment, with instruments such as drums or gongs.

Today, Ivorian music mixes African and European styles. For example, Zoblazo combines hi-tech synthesized sounds with traditional dance rhythms and vocal singing. Reggae has also proved popular with the international fame of Alpha Blondy.

Music and dance also continue to play an important part in ceremonies, both modern and ancient.  Traditional ancestral worship and ceremonies often use carved wooden masks to link with the spirit world. One of the best-known celebrations is the Festival of Masks in November, where dancers in the Man region pay homage to the spirits.

Unity followed by disunity

Ivory Coast has over 60 different ethnic groups which include the Baule (or Baoulé) in the centre (accounting for over a fifth of the population), the Agri in the east, the Senufo and Dioula in the north and the Bété and Dan-Yacouba in the west.

All the various groups speak languages (such as KwaMande and Gur) which belong to the Niger-Congo family, the largest language grouping in Africa. French is the official language, though some Ivorians speak a pidgin version (français de Moussa).

During its years of prosperity, Ivory Coast attracted large numbers of migrants, many settling in the north. Immigrants form a quarter of the population. Welcomed as ‘brothers’ by the first president Félix Houphouët-Boigny, these ‘foreigners’ began to be stripped of their rights after his death, as successive governments adopted nationalistic ‘Ivoirité’ policies. These policies helped create the divisions which led to civil war.

Religious mix

Political leaders used religious differences in Ivory Coast to stoke divisions, though communities had previously lived together peacefully.

Muslim traders who came to Ivory Coast after 1,000 AD spread the influence of Islam, with Muslims forming the largest religious grouping, particularly in the north. Christian missionaries were also active from the 19th century and approximately a third of the population is Christian. Many Ivorians still follow traditional local beliefs, particularly in rural areas.