A Travellerspoint blog

Real Life SimCity

If you could build your own city, what would you build? How about a peace foundation, a five star hotel and the biggest church in the world...

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If you could build your own city, what would you build? How about a peace foundation, a five-star hotel and the biggest church in the world...

Yamoussoukro Street

Yamoussoukro Street

What would you do if you could build your own city? Not too many of us get a chance to act on such a question. This being Africa, however, a few authoritarian presidents have had enough control over their state’s coffins to give this a go. (To be fair, this happens outside Africa too, Astana in Kazakhstan being a case in point.) Côte d’Ivoire’s first president, Felix Houphouët-Boigny, followed up his engineering dreams with a serious effort when building the country’s new capital. Before this, Yamoussoukro was just in a small village in the central region of the country. Houphouët-Boigny just happened to grow up there. The construction began back in the 1960’s, shortly after independence, and didn’t finish until the big man’s death in 1993. To cut him some slag, did he name it in honour of his aunt, Yamoussou, and not himself.

Abandoned Boulevard

Abandoned Boulevard

Yamoussoukro is a city build for the future. With broad boulevards to accommodate Africa's growing traffic, light poles line these streets, ready for a bright future. Instead, Houphouët-Boigny ended up building a city too expensive for contemporary Côte d’Ivoire to run. The boulevards lie empty, with grass growing through the concrete, while the light poles stand abandoned, unlit and left behind. The president’s legacy has somewhat died with him. Then again, here are some distinct touches, prestige projects if you will, found nowhere else in the world – let alone elsewhere in West Africa.

H-B Peace Foundation

H-B Peace Foundation

First stop on this tour of legacy is the Foundation Houphouët-Boigny de la Paix (Houphouët-Boigny Peace Foundation. Because what’s more natural than naming a foundation of peace after yourself when your authoritarian rule lasts for 33 years and “your” country decent into more than a decade of civil wars less than five years after your death. Build primarily in Italian marble this monster of a building was completed in 1987. More conference centre than foundation, it has hosted an impressive array of peace talks, peace conferences and the like during Houphouët-Boigny’s lifetime. Since then it’s mostly been used to host performance art, classical concerts and exhibitions. And it does, of course, include a small museum of Houphouët-Boigny’s political achievements – which mostly seems to have been photo opportunities with people like JFK and Nelson Mandela.

Hôtel Président

Hôtel Président

Next up is the five-star Hôtel Président (note how Houphouët-Boigny was humble enough to only used his title for this one). This tower should be pure extravaganza. It even has what I suspect to be West Africa's only handball court, as well as a panorama restaurant where I chose not to spent half of my daily budget on a brunch. The hotel is such an attraction that it’s possible to book tours of the place. Though, I decided that getting a tour of a hotel was a bit weird and simply chose to stroll past it.

Basilique Notre-Dame de la Paix

Basilique Notre-Dame de la Paix

Last, but certainly not least, Houphouët-Boigny decided to build the World’s largest church (according to the Guinness World of Records) here in the middle of nowhere. The Basilique de Notre-Dame de la Paix (Basilica of our Lady of Peace). At 158 m it’s 22 metres higher than the Pope’s favourite church, that of Saint Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican. This monster of a monument was completed just a few years before Houphouët-Boigny’s death, but he did manage to greet celebrates like the Pope, Nelson Mandel (again) and Michael Jackson here. The basilica was built during an economic crisis in Côte d’Ivoire in the late 1980’s, and that might explain why the final cost was never revealed. Guesses range from US$200 mil to US$600 mil with most suggestions being around US$300 mil. One thing is sure, though: The construction doubled the country’s foreign debt.

Inside

Inside

Eventually, Houphouët-Boigny gave the church to the Vatican as a gift. Reasons differ. Some say it was to apologise for out-doing the Basilica of Saint Peter, other because the annual upkeep of 1,500,000 US$ was too much for the government to fund. But no matter, today it’s the Vatican’s flag, not Côte d’Ivoire’s, that is blowing in the wind in front of the church. And the costs? Those millions of dollars are being paid by a kind Portuguese “charity”.

Despite the fact that people are living in poverty right next to this colossal waste of money, it is, hand’s down, both the most impressive and exciting sight in all of West Africa! Also, note how the first letters of the Foundation, the Hotel and the Basilica nice line up with FHB. Felix Houphouët-Boigny's own initials. Coincidence? I think not!

Feeding time!

Feeding time!

As if all this wasn’t enough, Houphouët-Boigny also hand-picked a dozen crocodile based on their vicious temper and aggressiveness, for the lake in front of the Presidential Palace. To take photos, I had to buy a chicken, which the guards would then feed to a lucky crocodile (or rather, the most vicious on the day). These beasts have coursed at least three human deaths since they were introduced to the lake. First, a successful suicide attempt by a dedicated follower of the president upon his death in 1993. Secondly, a veteran-feeder was eaten during a photo-op for UN troops. And lastly, a tourist who climbed the fence to take a selfie got what his intellect demanded. No deaths (but the chicken’s) occurred during my visit.

Inside the Basilica's Dome

Inside the Basilica's Dome

Yamoussoukro is a weird and fascinating place. Probably unique. Though I do prefer strange places that have come at a lesser cost (as you might have been able to figure out by my rather sarcastic tone in this blog post…).

PS. Happy holidays – it not really something celebrated down here.

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Posted by askgudmundsen 12:05 Archived in Cote d'Ivoire Tagged travel church basilica travelling crocodiles ivory west_africa ivory_coast côte_d'ivoire yamoussoukro world's_biggest houphouët-boigny Comments (0)

Malaria!

Because what would Africa travel be without a case of malaria... sigh.

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Malaria World

Malaria World

Travelling through West Africa, I’ve come across a few people severely affected by malaria. Common for them has been continuously vomiting, violent shaking and profuse sweating. In other words, they’ve looked really, really sick. Every time, I’ve really, really hoped that I would be spared the experience of getting malaria… As it turns out, I should have no such luck.

Avoid getting bitten

Avoid getting bitten

From the beginning of my travels, I’ve decided to skip the anti-malaria drugs. I’ve done so for a number of reasons. Most malaria medicine is expensive, and more so if it’s one pill per day for 365 days. Good malaria medicine would literally cost me almost two months worth of travelling. Add to that that many cheaper anti-malarias have some heavy side-effects and it’s no fun travelling around with depression or a heavy anti-malaria induced fever. Lastly, I’m simply not consistent enough to take the pills on a regular basis. I’ll forget it, skip it, take them at the wrong times, etc. All in all, it’s cheaper, easier and more pleasant to opt-out and then just try my best at avoiding getting bitten too much.

The odds should also be on my side. There are over 3,500 species of mosquitoes, but fewer than forty of those transmit the Plasmodium parasite that causes malaria. And during the first eight months, I spent in the ‘malaria zone’ – travelling from Mauritania to Côte d’Ivoire – I’ve had no problems whatsoever. But with 214 million cases of malaria worldwide every year (2015 numbers) causing 438.000 deaths (90 % of which is in Africa), I was clearly pushing my luck.

Arriving in Côte d'Ivoire

Arriving in Côte d'Ivoire

Having arrived in Côte d’Ivoire, I didn’t feel all that well. But I mostly contributed it to the usual travel aches of foreign bacteria and poor hygiene. Especially, because I usually have an iron stomach and care little about the street food that I shove inside of me. That gotta have some backlashes once in a while. And really, it wasn’t something unusual. I just felt a little under the weather. That all changed when I arrived in Kong, a smallish town in northern Côte d’Ivoire. Because getting a serious disease like malaria somewhere, where there’s proper medical facilities would be no fun at all…

The general feeling of misery had developed into diarrhoea, headache and symptoms associated with the common cold, like a blocked nose. Sure, this could just be from eating shitty food staying a few nights in a place with air condition. But given that I’m not on the pill, I promised myself to visit the sole clinic in town the following morning. When I, later that evening, developed a fever and neck pains (joint pain being a distinct symptom of malaria), I began to feel pretty comfortable that something wasn’t quite right.

Facebook quiz

Facebook quiz

That evening was pretty miserable. Alternating between massive sweats and severe chills that night and night was probably the worst I’ve had on the road. However, it wasn’t nearly as bad as some of the local cases I’ve experienced, and I did have enough mental surplus to make a quick quiz on my Facebook page where people could bet on malaria, typhoid fever or simple man flu. I few of my friends even guessed Guinea Worm, and once you’ve googled that, you’ll know why I didn’t particularly appreciate their theories… But honestly, if I have to go, I’d rather do it with a grin on my face and a bow before the curtain closes. So no, I don’t feel bad about making a bit of fun out of (possibly) getting malaria.

Malaria Positive

Malaria Positive

Next morning at the clinic, the doctor who saw me was quick to send me to the lab for a couple of blood tests, and – surprise, surprise – they came back about 30 minutes later with a positive result for malaria (which all of six people had guessed correctly on the night before). The cure was surprisingly simple. Two injections followed by three days of taking malaria medicine. Plus an additional two days (five total) of taking medication that would deal with side-effects to the malaria medicine. Three days of taking five pills in the morning and five pills in the evening, followed by two days of taking four pills twice a day. Pretty simple. Everything (tests and drugs) ended up costing me about €18.

The fact that almost half a million people die every year from something that costs less than €20 to cure says a lot about poverty and how easy it really would – and ought to – be to save millions of lives in the developing world.

Malaria Medicin

Malaria Medicin

Myself? I had to go through another feverish night and being pretty drained for both energy and appetite during the three days of treatment. Other than that, I’ve escaped unharmed. Most devastating is that I’m now barred from donating blood for the rest of my life. It’s a hugely important thing to do, and probably the easiest way to save lives. So I hope at least one of my readers, who have not done so earlier, will sign up as a blood donor in my place. Simply because the world doesn’t deserve fewer blood donors, just because I’m stupid enough not to take anti-malaria medicine while travelling through Africa.

Malaria injections

Malaria injections

Now, since we’re ending on a serious note. My malaria experience was a relative light on. I know of travellers who have been evacuated due to severe cases of malaria and others who have suffered through it badly. Even though they have taken their anti-malarias (even the best drugs only catch 80-95 % of the cases). Common for those travellers is that they have ignored the first symptoms. Malaria tends to get you sick, then you get better for a few days, and then you get really, really sick. If you are ever going to travel in a malaria area, please know the symptoms and as soon as you feel any kind of sick – even if you’re taking anti-malaria drugs – get tested. It’s cheap and surprisingly accessible. There’s no excuse not to!

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Posted by askgudmundsen 14:32 Archived in Cote d'Ivoire Tagged travel africa travelling cote medicine health malaria west_africa drugs treatment burkina sickness risk d'ivoire ivory_coast anti-malaria Comments (2)

The Last Train in West Africa

Riding the Ouagadougou - Abidjan Railway

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Officer seating people

Officer seating people

Settling into the hard, blue plastic seats in the second class carriage is all, but easy. Typically for West Africa, one-half of the passengers insist on sitting on the seats designated to them by their ticket. The other half of the passengers are just as keen to ignore those seat numbers. Many loud arguments quickly erupt, and it’s not before three train staffers and a police officer armed with an AK47 have passed through the train that people come down and everybody gets seated. In any such situation, the people insisting that the numbers do not matter wins.

Window view

Window view

My seat was a window seat in the sun. So predicting where things were going, I quietly found a spot on the opposite side of the aisle. At the window, but in the shade. Interestingly, enough nobody wanted my seat. Maybe, because I had picked a seat that was free, perhaps because the person with my seat had found somewhere else to sit, or maybe because nobody wanted to bother the only white guy on the train. That’s not usually something holding people back, but for whatever the reason, I could sit back on the uncomfortable hard plastic and “enjoy” the spectacle...

The train from the door

The train from the door

Readers who have follow my past travels in Central Asia know that I’m especially glad for train journeys. However, for train fanatics, West Africa is a bust. Nowadays, railways here are built by the Chinese for the sole purpose of transporting raw materials from the mines inland to the coast. Most often the trains run directly into the ports. No stops needed.
West Africa used to have some legendary train rides. The journey from Dakar to Bamako (Senegal to Mali), especially. Not because it was enjoyable, though. It was slow, delayed, dusty, and uncomfortable. But the experience was always worth writing about. The less-than-flattering description probably also explains why the line is now defunct. Only a small section, just outside Dakar, is still functioning – these days, it’s nothing more but a suburban line. Elsewhere in West Africa, passenger trains have met the same fate as the Dakar-Bamako train. Almost all have been overtaken by the highways. You could count the Iron Ore Train in Mauritania, after all, there is one passenger carriage on the 2.5 km long train. But really, that’s little more than a cargo train with a small upgrade.

Bobo-Dioulasso Station

Bobo-Dioulasso Station

All this makes the rails between Ouagadougou, in Burkina Faso, and Abidjan, in Côte d’Ivoire (the country uses the French name internationally), West Africa’s last passenger railway of significance. It’s the only railway that can be travelled for a major distance, and it’s the only one to cross an international border. This being my only chance to experience life on the West African rails I had to jump aboard.
I could have bypassed most of Côte d’Ivoire by buying a ticket all the way to the coast, but I got places to be and things to see in the northern part of the country, so I opted to take it for about 200 km only. That’s out of a total of 1250 km. Departing from Bobo-Dioulasso in southeastern Burkina to Ferkessédougou in northern Côte d’Ivoire.

The Lunatic Express

The Lunatic Express

My only other sub-Saharan train experience has been driving with the Lunatic Express in Kenya (twice). Leaving Nairobi with a delay of three and eight hours respectively, the one hour and fifteen-minute delay in Bobo was a pleasant surprise. However, it didn’t change the chaos on board. Assigned seats and Africa are two things that do not go well together. I experienced the same chaos flying between Dakar and Capo Verde: Half the passengers insist on sitting in their assigned seats, the other half don’t care.

To be fair, some of this chaos is unavoidable in countries with a high rate of illiteracy. Even numbers can be difficult to follow if you have no knowledge of how they are written or how the system works. You try to figure out Korean bus seating (unless you’re Korean, that is, then I’d imagine it to be pretty easy). But a lot is also attributed to a stubbornness and defiance. No one likes to brag about not being able to read numbers, so quite a few passengers seem too proud to care for the number system. Others were simply not giving a fuck, taking a “no numbers shall tell me where to sit” approach.

At the border

At the border

The police officer and train staffers were more interested in getting everybody seated than getting everybody seated correctly. The result, naturally, being that people pretty much just stayed put, while people standing arguing for their spots were shown other places to sit. Interestingly, none of this happened at the smaller stations we stopped at along the way. Maybe people only get assigned numbers on the bigger stations? This lack of general commodity, unfortunately, made the most of the six hours train ride a somewhat tedious affair. Nothing like the charms of the Tran Siberian or the Lunatic Express.

The station bar

The station bar

At least there was a tiny bar, at one end of the train. But it was packed and standing room only, so I decided to give that a miss. This changed as I reach my destination of Ferkessédougou (gracefully shortened 'Ferke') at around midnight. A tiny station, I was pretty much the only one getting off the train. I needed to find a place to sleep, and the guys running a small bar in the station parking lot was happy to help. They just needed the train to leave the station first. This, incidentally, took more than an hour. A bunch of the guys working on the train even joined me at the bar drinking beer, while the waited for the train to take off. At which they seemed happy almost to run after, and jumping on to, the already rolling train...

Posted by askgudmundsen 14:38 Archived in Burkina Faso Tagged trains travel africa railway travelling west_africa burkina abidjan ivory_coast ouagadougou lunatic_express Comments (0)

Keeping Score

UNESCO World Heritage Sites and why they are worth going out of your way for.

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The Loropéni Ruins

The Loropéni Ruins

My passport has to stay at the Embassy of Côte d’Ivoire over the weekend. It's pretty overdue. The visa is supposed to take less than 48 hours to process, but I've heard nothing since Tuesday when I handed in my passport, and they promised to call me when it's ready.

Instead of wasting my time in Ouagadougou, I figured I’d head out of the capital to see some of rural Burkina Faso. I decided to head to Lobi Country in the south-west. Why? Because that’s where the country’s only UNESCO World Heritage Site is located. The site is essentially just some overgrown stone walls, without any explanations, and very little is generally known about the locality; I doubt many people would have made the seven-hour bus ride to get here, just for that. Especially, because I have to make the return journey back to Ouaga to fetch my passport on Monday (if the visa's ready). 14 hours in buses for some overgrown, unexcavated stone walls. Sure, ruins are significant because they are some of the only precolonial stone ruins in West Africa and there is a lot of tourist potential, but still, overgrown walls aren't really something to travel far and wide for given the state they’re in at the moment.

Mounts Nimba, WHS Guinea

Mounts Nimba, WHS Guinea

So why do I bother?

There are two reasons. A good one and a bad one. Let’s start with the bad one. It’s a way for me as a traveller to keep score. Out of the world’s 1052 Heritage Sites have I visited 146 (and there are seven more in the countries I'm heading to). I’m a competitive guy, and most people like to brag about what they are good at. As someone who spends way too much time and money on travelling I need something to show for it.

Bassari Country, WHS Senegal

Bassari Country, WHS Senegal

Travellers aren’t different from other dedicated people with a particular hobby or interest. We need some way of comparing reproductive organs. Just like a mountaineer, who have scaled Mount Everest more than once or an artist who's proud of having yet another piece exhibited at a renowned museum. Most travellers simply count countries. We do that because we have been to quite a few of them and that’s an easy way to compete and brag - no-one who've only visited a handful of countries cares to keep score. But there really isn’t an agreed consensus about how many countries there are in the world as there's no official definition of what a country is. Therefore, it might be worth looking at additional ways of competing. Just for the record, I think there are 208 countries in the world* and I’ve visited 90-something once I’ve finished this trip.

Kunta Kinteh Island, WHS Gambia

Kunta Kinteh Island, WHS Gambia

Countries come (South Sudan) and go (the Soviet Union), and many have pretty arbitrary borders. Africa was demarcated by a bunch of Europeans sitting around a few desks in Berlin in 1896. A few countries have more interesting, but just as arbitrary, stories behind their borders. Part of the Gambia’s border was decided by sailing a gunboat down the Gambia River, shooting cannon balls onto the shore. Wherever the canon balls landed marked the boundary between the English and the French colony.

Determining the scope of my travels based one something as arbitrary as the number of countries I have travel, visited or just passed through seems strangely unsatisfying.

Cidade Velha, WHS Cabo Verde

Cidade Velha, WHS Cabo Verde

That's when the second reason for going out of the way to visit UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites comes into play. These places are landmarks selected on the basis of having cultural, historical, scientific or some other form of significance for the collective interests of humanity. These are places of outstanding cultural or natural importance, and such places do seem more fitting as a measure for travelling.

Heritage Sites aren’t always in the guide books either. But for anyone who appreciates history, culture and nature they're often rewarding anyhow. Realising that Africans built massive stone forts to protect their gold mines a thousand years ago is an important antidote to the common idea that Africans lacked civilisation, technology, etc. before Europeans came down here a few hundred years ago. So while it might not have been the big tourist attraction, it was definitely worth the long bus rides to get some perspective on West Africa’s past that I wouldn't have got otherwise.

And that's the strength of UNESCO’s list. No matter where you travel on this planet, there might be something significant close by that you wouldn't have visited otherwise, had it not been on that list.

Aït Ben Haddou, WHS Morocco

Aït Ben Haddou, WHS Morocco

The list isn’t without its issues, though. Its focus on history and technology makes it bias towards “the Old World”. Combined, the 17 West African countries I’ve travelled through hold 34 Heritage Sites (8 of which are built by Europeans). Morocco holds nine of these, places like Sierra Leone and Liberia none. In comparison, Italy alone has 51 sites. China 50, Spain 45, France 42, Germany 41 and India 35. However, I still find it a better way of keeping score, than by counting countries. Because the World Heritage Sites add some depth and thought provocation to one’s travels, and because they can take you places you might not have gone otherwise.

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No, really, there aren’t any official definition of what a country is. So I’ve made my own criteria (it’s about to get nerdy):
The UN have 193 member states, plus two observers. The observers are the Vatican (the least country-like country in the world) and Palestine, which is only recognised by a 138 UN members (plus the Vatican). Then there are places with limited recognition, but without UN status, like Western Sahara (recognised by 84 UN members), Kosovo (recognised by 110 UN members) and Taiwan (which is formally recognised by 21 UN members + the Vatican, and unofficial recognised by most of the Western world). I count these as countries because their recognition is significant, while de facto states such as Somaliland, Transnistria, Nargono-Karabakh, etc. simply do not have enough recognition (official or unofficial) to make the list. So, 193 UN states, plus two observers and three partly recognised countries. That’s 198.
Next, there are constituent countries, that is countries that are constitutionally part of a sovereign state: Scotland and Wales (of the UK) fall into this category, but not Northern Ireland, which is only a province. Greenland and Faeroe Islands (of Denmark); Aruba, Curacao and Sint Maarten (of the Netherlands), and French Polynesia. That’s 206. Finally, there are five countries of free associations - that is, they are officially independent, bit rely so much on their supporting state that they de facto aren't independent. Three of these, Marchall Islands, Micronesia and Palau, is in association with the US and independent UN member states (thus already counted), while the last two, Cook Islands and Niue, are in association with New Zealand aren’t UN members. If we count the former three, we ought to count the latter two as well. And that is how we arrive at 208 countries.
Provinces, self-governing territories, overseas protectorates, Hong Kong and Gibraltar, and whatever else is around are not countries. Period!

Posted by askgudmundsen 02:43 Archived in Burkina Faso Tagged travel china world sites heritage africa unesco site europe sight travelling west_africa burkina world_heritage_site ivory_coast Comments (0)

A Royal Audience

Or rather two audiences and a big ceremony

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Ouahigouya

Ouahigouya

Early evening, on the same day I finished my Dogon Country trek, I left Mali to the relative safety of northern Burkina Faso. More precisely a town called Ouahigouya. Entering a new country means finding a new way to quell my Internet addiction, i.e. buy a new local sim-card and load it with data. Sure, travelling through West Africa would be a good way to get “off the grid”, but I’m not leaving the Internet behind for a whole year. Besides, the mobile 3G is the only internet down here fast enough for me to actually update this blog. Wi-Fi and internet cafés are painfully slow.

Royal Yatenga Grave

Royal Yatenga Grave

Walking into the nearest mobile company office, little did I know that I wasn’t just shopping a sim-card. I was making a friend. The guy selling me the sim-card, Sissoko, decided to help me out once we’d finished the formal business. He offered to take me to the guesthouse I wanted to stay in, so we jumped on the back of his scooter to find me a place to sleep. Things were pretty full, so we had to shop around. Having finally found a place, he not only paid for the first two night (so smoothly that I didn’t realise it and thus couldn’t complain/stop him), he also bought me dinner and paid my beer.
We met up the next day so that he could show me the town. As you might have guessed, he insisted on driving me around seeing stuff. Passing by the traditional king’s palace, I casually mentioned that we should go and visit the King. You know, as a sign of respect from a traveller passing through his lands. Sissoko wasn’t as keen as I was. Bursting in on the King unannounced apparently isn’t something you do here. He’s quite the powerful guy. Let me explain.

The Royal Palace

The Royal Palace

In Burkina, the old pre-colonial kingdoms still exist. The most powerful are in Ouagadougou – the capital. The second-most powerful is in Ouahigouya, and a third is in the eastern part of the country. These kings sort of have the role of civil society leaders. While they are all decedents of the original, pre-colonial kings, the modern state’s president and other political leaders wield the official political power. The Kings, wield unofficial power. They hold sway over dozens – if not hundreds – of village chiefs, who then have the respect of their villages. So the government have to consider their opinions during policy making.

The King and His Spokesperson

The King and His Spokesperson

Despite the unannounced nature of our visit, the King was happy to see us. Once he’d woke up from his nap, that is. So we had to wait a few hours. We used them pro-actively and did another tour of the town. When it was time to see the king, he was sitting in his courtyard on a white plastic garden chair. A few other guests were sitting on mats on the floor. This humble throne was the only thing physically distinguishing the king from his guests. As a foreign visitor, the king ordered for another throne to be fetched, and I was honoured with a white plastic chair opposite the King’s. Between Sissoko’s decent English and my basic knowledge of French, we did manage to tell the king that my visit was a show of respect. However, we didn’t get much further in the conversation. Asking questions about a Burkina king’s skillset, the secession order and the size of the realm were a wee bit too complicated with the languish barrier. Instead, the King asked us to come back the following morning with prepared questions and told his grandson to accompany us back to town so that he could answer some of my questions. Hashtag: Hanging out with a prince.

Sissoko (middle) and Tiraogo (right)

Sissoko (middle) and Tiraogo (right)

The king’s grandson, Tiraogo, had a bit better command of English, than Sissoko, and with a bit of help from Google Translate, I got explained, among other things, how succession works here. Not surprisingly, it’s agnatic primogeniture, meaning that the oldest legitimate son will take over the throne once a king dies. Interestingly though, an interim mourning period lasting between six weeks and six months have to be upheld before the new king can take to the throne. In this time the senior woman of the royal family will take over leadership of the kingdom. The senior woman being either the deceased king’s oldest living sister or his oldest daughter.

Extended Royal Family

Extended Royal Family

Returning to the palace the next morning, the King had changed his attire to a more royal rope. Formal audiences are held in a small building in front of the courtyard. Here the king was launching on a mat on a raised plateau, while his guests were sitting on mats on the floor. Again, I got a plastic chair. We exchanged some diplomatic pleasantries, like me thanking the king for his time and willingness to answer my questions, while the King expressed gratitude of my interest in learning more about the kingdom. Then, through Sissoko and Tiraogo, I had a chance to ask questions about the role and skillset of the king, the importance of the institution, and how it co-exists with the more formal political hierarchy. I’ve already summed up the answers in the beginning. The king also invited me to attend the “year’s first” ceremony that afternoon. My plan was to leave town after my meeting with the king, but I don’t know when I’ll be invited to a royal ceremony again and decided to stay for another day.

The King and Village Chiefs

The King and Village Chiefs

That afternoon me, Sissoko and his English teacher, which he had brought along to explain to me what was going on, once again returned to the royal palace. Traditionally the year in Burkina starts at the end of the rainy season. It is the king’s duty to scarifies and talk to the ancestors, in order to secure a good harvest during the rains. Thus, at the first part of the ceremony the king’s village chiefs thanked the king for the good harvest and donated some of it’s result to him. Either in the form of millet, firewood or cash. The king was back on this white plastic throne, wearing a white dress of peace (there’s also a red dress of war) and a red hat. Surrounded by his ministers, close family members and bodyguards, he took centre stage while a hundred or so village chiefs were sitting on mats and roughs to his sides. Like in a proper court. A few hundred spectators, mostly kids and women, had gathered to witness the ceremony and were standing on the edges of it all.

Royal Ceremony

Royal Ceremony

During the second part of the ceremony, the chiefs (on behalf of their villages) and individuals who wished to, could ask the king for good luck and safety for the coming year – at the token of a small donation. This pretty much worked out like this: gifts of money were handed to the king’s spokesman who would then announce the person’s or village’s name as well as the size of the donation to the crowd. Some social competition is a huge part of this. Figuring out that it would give the crowds a thrill I donated the equivalent of 3€ (about the median of the donations given) to the king and asked for protection, hospitality and good luck for any travellers, who is going to pass through the kingdom the rest of the year. Loud cheers and laughs from the crowd insinuated that I hadn’t been wrong about my participation being well recessive.

Fire!

Fire!

In general, this was a ceremony clouded in smoke from some heavy guns his bodyguards were carrying. Otherwise, everything was done in a quite formal and professional way. Every person taking part in the ceremony having specific and designated roles. Ceremonies here in Ouahigouya is apparently rare. But the king in the capital Ouagadougou hold a short ceremony every Friday morning should some feel like visiting.

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Posted by askgudmundsen 21:17 Archived in Burkina Faso Tagged traditional travel king ceremony meeting travelling west_africa burkina ceremonies naaba audieance Comments (0)

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