Ivory Coast

Traditions and customs of the Ivory Coast

What customs and traditions are there in Ivory Coast?

Explanation of the traditions and typical customs of the Ivory Coast (Africa).

Food and economy

Food in daily life

In Côte d’Ivoire, grains such as millet, maize, and rice, and tubers such as yams and cassava make up the majority of meals. These staples are supplemented with legumes such as peas, beans, or peanuts, and smaller amounts of vegetables, oils, spices, and protein, usually meat or fish.

The women prepare the grains by grinding them in large wooden bowls with long wooden pestles. For the most part, family meals are cooked outdoors in ceramic or metal pots over stone fireplaces. Ivorian food is very spicy and is eaten with the hands.

The best-known dishes are rice with pepper-flavored peanut sauce, found in the northern savannah, and fried fish and plantains, served in the coastal regions. The national dish is foutou (also spelled futu), a thick, heavy paste made from mashed bananas or sweet potatoes that is eaten with a spicy sauce or stew made from fish or meat.

Due to its preservability, dried grated cassava, known as gari, is a popular food. The most popular culinary dish in the Ivory Coast, maquis usually includes chicken and fish cooked in onions and tomatoes. Among the favorite drinks of the villagers are palm wine and homemade beer.

Food customs on ceremonial occasions

Food plays an important role in the ceremonial and religious ceremonies of most indigenous groups. The feast and drink are used in coming-of-age ceremonies, religious ceremonies, and funeral and memorial services.

Among the Akan villages, 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 the most famous food festivals in the Ivory Coast is the Festival of Masks, held in the villages of the Man region every February. Every March, the Bouaké Carnival is filled with parties and food.

The main Muslim holiday in Côte d’Ivoire, Ramadan is a month-long celebration during which everyone fasts between sunrise and sunset in accordance with the fourth pillar of Islam, and then ends the fast with a big party. Eid al-Fitr is another Muslim holiday focused on partying, prayer, fellowship, and gift-giving.

In native traditions, food is often used by fetish priests to create magic potions or charms; the future can be guessed by throwing the grain of rice into a box; certain foods may be forbidden to ameliorate illness or misfortune. Ancestral spirits are offered food and drink before being consulted.


Ivorian marriages focus on the combination of two families. The creation of a new home is important for wedding rituals. The government abolished polygamy in 1964 and set the legal age of marriage at eighteen for males and sixteen for females, although polygamy is a widely accepted lifestyle among many native ethnic groups.

In addition, 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 are engaged in the traditional wedding rituals of the natives. Divorce, although not common, is socially acceptable among most ethnic groups.


Often laid-back and very polite, Ivorians are always uplifted and wonder about a person’s health, family, or job. It is considered impolite to do business without first greeting. Men shake hands; women, on the other hand, kiss each other three times on the cheeks, alternating sides.

At social functions, it is polite to shake hands with everyone when entering and exiting. Eye contact, especially between parent and child, is generally avoided, and it is considered rude to stare. It is customary to give gifts, 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 Ivorians who follow Harrisism, a Christian religion unique to Côte d’Ivoire that advocates a simple lifestyle.

Christianity dominates in the south and in the center of the country; Islam predominates in the north and northeast (although many Muslims have moved south in search of work); and indigenous belief systems are present throughout the country.

Both Islam and Christianity have adapted to indigenous religions in various ways, and many Ivorians who have converted to Christianity continue to observe rituals that worship the spirits of their ancestors. Most Muslims in Côte d’Ivoire are Sunni, following the Maliki version of Islamic law.

Sufism is also widespread, infused with indigenous beliefs and practices. Beyond these localized versions of the world’s religions, however, are complex belief systems and practices that incorporate multiple elements from various religions, including animism, fetishism, and witchcraft.

According to most local belief systems, spiritual beings – creators, ancestral spirits, and spirits associated with places and objects – can influence a person’s life and play an important role in religious worship and practice.

Religious practitioners

Each of the major religious traditions has its own practitioners, such as Christian priests, nuns, and ministers, 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 wields 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 chiefs, village chiefs, and priests who officiate at the ritual celebrations of cults that honor specific deities.

These priests (“akomfo”) also act as diviners, many of whom are believed to be clairvoyant and capable of locating the source of spiritual difficulties for their followers, who consult them for a price. Priests sometimes act as doctors, as many illnesses are believed to have a spiritual basis.

Rituals and Holy Places

Collective ceremonies and rituals are important to many indigenous religions, and include ceremonial dances, ancestor worship sacrifices, mask carving and ceremonies, fetish priest ceremonies, and divination ceremonies.

For 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 purification ritual. It helps purge the group of bad influences.

Inhabitants of the Ivory Coast perform rituals 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. In Yamoussoukro there is the Great Mosque and the largest church in Africa, the Basilica of Our Lady of Peace.

Death and the afterlife

The vast majority of Ivorians believe that a person’s soul lives on after death. Because death is often seen as the transformation of an ordinary human being into a honored ancestor, funerals are held elaborately.

Relatives spend a great deal of money to provide the proper funeral and memorial services for their loved ones, which typically take place forty days after death, and include dancing, drumming, singing, and feasting that last for days, even weeks.

Secular celebrations

The Government of Côte d’Ivoire recognizes the following holidays: New Year’s (January 1), Labor Day (May 1), Assumption (August 15), All Saints’ Day (November 1), Independence (celebrated on December 7) and Christmas (December 25).

Movable religious holidays that vary according to the Islamic lunar calendar include Id al-Fitr and Id al-Adha, as well as Christian holidays based on the Gregorian calendar, such as Good Friday, Easter Monday, Ascension Day, and Easter. Pentecost Monday.

Arts and Humanities

Arts support

The arts are largely self-sufficient, although the government encourages and supports dance companies, artists, writers, and the museum. The cultural groups in the villages receive some help from the government.


Côte d’Ivoire has enjoyed a long history of storytelling, mainly due to its high illiteracy rate. Passing down traditional poetry, folktales, and myths, the storytellers, called griots by the Malike, impart social values, history, and religion.

French is the dominant language for written literature, since very little exists in native languages. Bernard Dadie is perhaps the best known Ivorian writer to emerge in the 20th century. He wrote the country’s first play, Assémiwen Déhylé, and one of his first novels, Climbié, as well as several other successful works.

Other authors have contributed to the wide range of Ivorian literature, 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 in the mid-1970s with the autobiographical work of Simone Kaya. Among the best known writers are Fatou Bolli, Anne-Marie Adiaffi, Véronique Tadjo, Flore Hazoumé and Gina Dick.

Graphic arts

Indigenous graphic art traditions abound in Côte d’Ivoire, including woodcarving, weaving, pottery, mask-making, jewelry-making, carving, sculpture, and painting. All traditional art in the Ivory Coast is done primarily for practical purposes, usually in connection with religious, health, or village matters.

Ivorian artists combine traditional materials – such as wood, ivory, clay and stone – and folktales and religious or mythical elements to create their art, which often transcends multiple cultures. Many Senufo and Baoule wood carvers make art specifically for tourists looking for souvenirs in the open markets.

Performing arts

In Côte d’Ivoire, performance art embodies music, dance and festivals. Music exists almost everywhere – in everyday activities and in religious ceremonies – and most singing is done in groups, usually accompanied by traditional instruments.

Along with the native melodies of the indigenous groups, the Ivorians participate in the most contemporary music of Europe and America. In the cities, dichotomies can be found, from the Abidjan orchestral ensemble that performs classical music to street Rock and Roll.

Traditional dance is alive in ceremonies and festivals, and is often linked to history or ethnic beliefs. The Senufo N’Goron dance, for example, is a colorful initiation dance in which young women carry a fan of feathers and imitate birds. Malinke women perform the Koutouba and Kouroubissi dances before Ramadan.

The various traditions have unified masquerade, music and dance as an expression of the continuation of creation and life, and during these events the mask takes on deep cultural and spiritual significance.

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