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Culture & People


The culture of Côte d'Ivoire is ethnically diverse. More than 60 indigenous ethnic groups are often cited, although this number may be reduced to seven clusters of ethnic groups by classifying small units together on the basis of common cultural and historical characteristics. These may be reduced to four major cultural regions – the East Atlantic (primarily Akan), West Atlantic (primarily Kru), Voltaic, and Mandé – differentiated in terms of environment, economic activity, language, and overall cultural characteristics. In the southern half of the country, East Atlantic and West Atlantic cultures, separated by the Bandama River, each make up almost one-third of the indigenous population. Roughly one-third of the indigenous population lives in the north, including Voltaic peoples in the northeast and Mandé in the northwest.

The diverse culture of the Côte d’Ivoire, a coastal West African country bordered by Ghana, Liberia, Mali, Burkina Faso and Guinea, is exemplified by a multitude of ethnic groups, events and festivals, music and art.

The arts are largely self-supporting, although the government encourages and provides support to dance troupes, artists, writers, and the museum. Village cultural groups receive some government assistance.


Côte d'Ivoire has enjoyed a long history of storytelling, primarily because of its high illiteracy rate. By passing on traditional poetry, folk tales, and myths, the storytellers, called griots by the Malike, impart societal values, history, and religion. French is the dominant language for written literature, as little exists in native languages. Bernard Dadie is perhaps Côte d'Ivoire's best-known writer to emerge in the twentieth century. He wrote the country's first play, Assémiwen Déhylé , and one of its first novels, Climbié, as well as several other successful works. Other authors have contributed to the vast array of literature from Côte d'Ivoire, 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 during the mid-1970s with Simone Kaya's autobiographical work. Among the best-known women writers are Fatou Bolli, Anne-Marie Adiaffi, Véronique Tadjo, Flore Hazoumé and Gina Dick.

Visual Arts

Indigenous graphic art traditions are found in abundance in Côte d'Ivoire, including wood sculpting, weaving, pottery making, mask making, jewellery making, carving, sculpting and painting. All traditional Ivorian art is made first for practical purposes – usually in relation to 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 make their art, which often transcends several cultures. Many Senufo and Baoule woodcarvers make art specifically for tourists searching the open markets for souvenirs.

Masks are a prevalent art form in the Côte d’Ivoire. The variety and intricacy of masks created by the people of the Côte d’Ivoire is rivalled by none. Masks have many purposes; they are used mostly for representative reason; they can symbolise lesser deities, the souls of the deceased, and even caricatures of animals. They are considered sacred and very dangerous; as such, only certain powerful individuals and families are permitted to own them, and only specially trained individuals may wear the masks. It is dangerous for others to wear ceremonial masks because each mask has a soul, or life force, and when a person's face comes in contact with the inside of the mask that person is transformed into the entity the mask represents. The Baoulé, the Dan (or Yacouba) and the Senoufo are all known for their wooden carvings.

Performing Arts

In Côte d'Ivoire performance art embodies music, dance and festivals. Music exists almost everywhere – in everyday activities and religious ceremonies – and most singing is done in groups, usually accompanied by traditional instruments. Along with the native melodies of the indigenous groups, Ivorians participate in more contemporary music from Europe and America. Dichotomies – from the Abidjan Orchestral Ensemble that performs classical music to street rock and roll – can be found in the cities. Traditional dance is alive in ceremonies and festivals, and is usually linked to history or ethnic beliefs. The Senufo N'Goron dance, for example, is a colourful initiation dance where young girls wearing a fan of feathers and imitate birds. Malinke women perform the Koutouba and Kouroubissi dances before Ramadan. The various traditions have unified the masquerade, music and dance as an expression of the continuation of creation and life, and during these events the mask takes on deep cultural-spiritual significance.

Events & Festivals

The Fêtes des Masques, held in November in the region of Man (Festival of Masks) is one of the Côte d’Ivoire’s biggest and most well known festivals. Competitions between villages are held in order to find the best dancers, and to pay homage to the forest spirits embodied in the intricate masks. Another important event is the week long carnival in Bouaké each March.

In April there is the Fête du Dipri in Gomon, near Abidjan. This festival starts around midnight, when women and children that are naked, sneak out of their huts and are carrying out nocturnal rites to exorcise the village of evil spells. Before sunrise the chief appears, drums pound and villagers go into trances. The frenzy continues until late afternoon of the next day.

The major Muslim holiday is Ramadan, a month when everyone fasts between sunrise and sunset in accordance with the fourth pillar of Islam. Ramadan ends with a huge feast, Eid al-Fitr, where everyone prays together, visits friends, gives presents and stuffs themselves.





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