A Cloth of Many Colored Strips

Back in 1979-1980, then in 1985 and 1993, my wife, the anthropologist Alma Gottlieb, and I lived in small, remote villages of the Beng people of the Ivory Coast. In recent days Alma and I have found it difficult to watch the tragic news coming from the country: videos of military strikes and violence in Abidjan, the country’s largest city, and photos of dead bodies strewn across streets we’d once walked.

All this has seemed like the horrific endgame of a lovely country’s slow, 30-year long downward spiral of corruption, economic and political crisis and civil war, and I’m reminded of this quote from the Ivorian writer Amadou Kourouma’s novel The Suns of Independence (a classic of West African literature): “God made this life like a cloth of many colored strips: one strip the color of happiness and joy, one strip the color of poverty and illness, one strip the color of insult and dishonor.”

The country’s recent troubles were spurred in large part by ethnic demonizing and exclusion; this is a terrible irony considering the great strength of Ivory Coast’s ethnic and cultural diversity. A recent film and music project, Abidja’Taam, le goût d’Abidjan, celebrates that diversity.

The CD is a collection of slow, soulful songs from a wide range of Ivorian musicians, a 45-minute gentle rebuke to the country’s recent madness. Listening to this beautiful music, I can imagine that once again Ivory Coast will find itself settled on the strip of cloth that’s the color of happiness and joy. Here is a video from the project, the song “Don,” sung by Tiken Jah Fakoly.

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