The History of Grave Monuments in Ivory Coast
The subject of death and dying has always been a vital part of the Akan’s art and culture as well as being a vital insight to the people in the Ivory Coast. Within the last 30 years, there has been an emergence of brightly coloured and intricate funeral monuments and sculptures along the roadside in this African country. Popular, these are testimonies to the wealth and prestige of those who have passed away, as well as being a way to achieve immortality, a way to ensure that they are not forgotten.
The Anyi and Brong of the Ivory Coast have a long tradition of grave monuments. They migrated from the western part of modern day Ghana sometime between the 16thand 18thcenturies, incorporating other ethnic traditions whilst maintaining their own. The most important practice for the Anyi and Brong are funerals.
A great deal of money and time are invested into funerals, including the establishment of grave monuments. These grave monuments “and the time devoted to funerals and memorial observances are all manifestations of the eschatology that permeates everyday life. The two principal concerns of Anyi and Brong practices are that the deceased be well received into the world of the ancestors and that he and his lineage be immortalized in the memory of the living”.
Funerals generally last a week for the Anyi and the Brong, the funeral activities give the deceased a glorious departure from the world of the living and a grand entrance to the world inhabited by their ancestors. For these ethnic groups, the two worlds are interdependent, “human beings live by the benevolence of the ancestors, and the ancestors continue their social existence in the memory of human beings through sacrifices and libations”.
The first cement grave sculptures first appeared in the Ivory Coast in the 1950s, a time when the country was wealthy due to a boom in coco and coffee prices. “The tombs and monuments in one vil-lage, Kekereni, provide a veritable catalogue of the development of sculpted monument styles, from burial rooms attached to houses to an imposing royal tomb. In the days before missionaries and cemeteries, the dead were customarily buried either at the edge of the village with a bush or pineapple plant to mark the grave, or in a room in the deceased person’s house. According to traditional practice, graves were oriented north/ south. Men were buried facing east, so that they could see by the rising sun when to go to their farms, while women were buried facing west, so that the set-ting sun would remind them to begin preparing the evening meal. Tombs separated from the house but still within or at the edge of the village came somewhat later”.
After the 1950s, sculptures were added to the tombs, a practice that allowed the tombs to no longer be hiding. Instead, they were built alongside the roads in plain sight. The tombs then evolved from a personal burial site to a very public monument to be admired. “The funeral monument then be-came a three-dimensional tableau of the funeral itself”.
Despite the fact that the Ivory Coast has recently fell on hard financial times, the practice of creating expensive grave monuments has not seen a decline. For the Anyi and the Brong, to be forgotten is worse than being dead.
Domowitz, Susan & Mandirola, Renzo (1984) Grave Monuments in Ivory Coast, African Arts, UCLA James S. Coleman African Studies Center.