The Bridge of the Spirits

2004, Society  -  52 min Leave a Comment
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The ritual drums sound in the west of the Ivory Coast in Western Africa. In the language of percussion, they broadcast the rhythms identifying the different families and clans, telling them to come to the village square. The masks have arrived and soon they will begin to dance. These are the real institutions, which order, legislate, and codify the social life of the different ethnic groups that live in the region in the west of the Ivory Coast. Each one belongs to a different family. Some are very old and only appear on very special occasions.

There are masks that only come out every 5 years, 10 years, or even 50. They are the representation of the protective spirits revealed in dreams. Their importance can be seen from the way in which they are decorated and the cortège of the initiated that accompanies them to lead them and take care of them. Before coming out, they must perform complex ceremonies at which they sacrifice animals in offering. The people both respect and fear them. From them, they gain strength and spiritual peace, but they avoid any accidental physical contact. If the mask does not give permission, no one apart from the initiated may touch them. There are masks of justice, of wisdom, warrior masks, satirical masks, and so on.

Each one serves a specific need. Their dance is always spectacular. That is how they demonstrate that the power of their magic comes from the other world. Only the initiated know who has been chosen by the family chief to make the mask dance. Before putting on the cloths and the carved wooden mask, he goes into a profound trance, which will last until he returns. Once it has come out, each mask must return to its secret dwelling place within a certain time of between two and four days. Before it is again put away, the obligatory sacrifices and rituals must be performed. The assembled people are moved by the demonstrations of strength and skill. They believe only spirits can do these things.

The clan chiefs preside over the ceremony observing attentively. From time to time, they give orders to the initiated for the mask to do something specific. In this region of the Ivory Coast there are still ancient jungles and leafy forests, which are home to different ethnic branches of the Mande group. The most characteristic of these are the Dan who are related to the Guere. Their villages are very distant from each other. They do not form a large community, but rather isolated groups, which only come together in exceptional circumstances or to defend themselves against some common threat.