Although we focus much attention on sustainable development and the right to health, the people and communities in the countries where we work have an immense cultural diversity that should be appreciated and valued. Here is a glimpse into the culture and artisanship of African countries such as Togo, Ghana and Benin.
Like its close neighbours Ghana and Benin, Côte d’Ivoire is a country with an incredibly diverse range of traditional artisanship. “The crafts sector offers enormous opportunities in terms of employment, training and wealth creation”, according to the Ivorian Ministry of Development, Crafts and Transformation. This sector has eight branches of activity providing nearly 245 trades in Côte d’Ivoire.
In fact, in 2022 the Ministry has announced that it will build 13 craft centres in the country, one for each region. These centres will bring together artisans by branch and sector of activity to create networks that promote their trades and raise awareness about their work.
Today, Ivorian crafts can be found in every corner of the country: at the Centre Artisanal de la Ville d’Abidjan (CAVA), at the Cocody craft market, at the Grenier des perles africaines in Treichville, and in the centre and craft markets of the city of Grand-Bassam, among many others.
Sculptures, masks and hand-carved objects
Hand-carved objects are the most recognisable traditional crafts in Côte d’Ivoire. Wooden (or sometimes bronze) masks, statuettes and sculptures represent the country’s different cultures, ethnicities and regions. In Abidjan, the most populous city and the country’s economic hub, artisans are grouped into cooperatives and sell their pieces in galleries and workshops throughout the city. These galleries mainly display Dan, Gué and Wéré masks, but also several Senufo pieces, Baulé chairs and Nigerian handicrafts. There are many pieces carved from the bark of the cola tree, horn or boar’s teeth (pipes, baton sticks, jewellery, statuettes and figurines, etc.).
Akan gold work
The Akan are an umbrella group of several ethnic groups that live in the Gulf of Guinea. Historically, the Akan kingdoms and states enjoyed enormous power over the territory, which is reflected in their cultural practices. Today, more than 30% of the Ivorian population is of Akan ethnicity.
The value of gold to this ethnic group can be seen in the ceremonial dress of their chiefs and kings, a symbol of the prosperity of their kingdoms and their cultural dominance. Thus, Akan gold work is notable for the use of gold and other metals in a myriad of objects: spectacles, sandals, seats, jewellery, gold dust preserved in special boxes, etc.
These objects include Baulé weights, which were used to weigh gold dust and are cast using the ancient lost-wax technique. These small weights, sold everywhere in markets, galleries and museums and also incorporated into various pieces of jewellery, clothing and contemporary crafts, generally depict animals or abstract shapes with geometric patterns reminiscent of Ghanaian adinkras*.
The Mangoro people and their pottery
The Mangoro people live in north-central Côte d’Ivoire, in the Bandama Valley region, mainly in and around the town of Katiola, and are known for their pottery.
Mangoro’s traditional pottery has an important place in the cultural and artistic heritage of Côte d’Ivoire. Mangoro potters tell their family history with hand wheels and polished stones and create ceramic objects to renew the pact that links them to their ancestors.
Clay is the lifeblood of these villages. In the past, only women were allowed to go down to the wells to extract clay. Since the places where the clay is sourced are also places of ancestor worship, mining the clay every day was not allowed. In fact, many Mangoro craftsmen believe that it is the dead ancestors who provide the living with the quality clay to create their pottery: decorative pots, tureens for meals, jewellery boxes, bird whistles, jars, etc.
Ivorian handicraft is a reflection of cultural diversity
All handicrafts in Côte d’Ivoire draw on the cultures and oral traditions of the people who live there. It is a practice that often involves a spiritual intention behind the creation of traditional Ivorian handicrafts, a richness that opens up a world full of myths and material expressions of the history of these ethnic groups.