West Africa

                       06 Dec 2007

The Toura of Ivory Coast: People of the Sacrifice

(segment length 10 minutes 21 seconds)

Blood runs freely in the rain forests of Ivory Coast: the blood of chickens, goats and sheep, -- blood that our people hope will rise as a sweet aroma to our ancestors. To sacrifice is to honor them, to beg their favor – to be Toura.

Toura – we are proud of our heritage, proud of our culture. Seventy-five of our little villages lay nestled among the rain forest covered mountains of Ivory Coast. Each day we awaken to the steady thump of our women pounding the day’s rice, the music of the morning. Our daily lives flow under the protection of our departed elders, those who have gone before us. There are only about 35,000 of us walking the earth today, but our fathers’ spirits number in the millions. Aatana, the one good, creator God, watches over us all. Generations have come and gone in this particular little village, Dantomba. Like our fathers before us, we climb palm trees and harvest the nuts so that our women can boil them down for palm oil. Generations have gathered water from this river and carried wood out of these forests. When our young men and women walk our mountain trails to work in our fields, when they carry home the produce, they are walking in the steps of their grandmothers and grandfathers.

We are a people of the land, a people who depend on the seasons to bring us rain for our crops. Even our play is tied to the elements. If our boys whipped their tops, called dena, during rainy season, the skies would close up and refuse to soak our rice fields. The dena are only allowed to spin during dry season – the season of harvest.

And the harvest is what sustains us. We farm the black soil of our mountains with cacao (cocoa) and coffee, which we sell to you – in America and in the West. Coffee and cocoa provide nearly all of our yearly income. Think of us next time when you sip your morning cup, when you eat your chocolate bar – because you are giving us the income to buy clothes and medicine and the necessities of life. But our rice fields are what feed us -- year after year, just as they fed our ancestors before us. The rice harvest is the most important time of the year – the time we are finally sure we will not go hungry in the days ahead.

Our cycle of seasons – rainy season and dry – are all set in place by Aatana, the one high creator God. He is truly the one we worship, but our ancestors are between us – closer to God than we who still walk the earth. Our ancestors intercede for us at Aatana’s throne. When we sacrifice, we do it to please them both – the ancestors and the one true God. Listen to my brothers explain this to you…

My name is Diego and I am from Dantomba. My father is Ba Seiba, and my mother’s name is Tune Peu. We want to explain why we sacrifice. There are two kinds of sacrifices, and the first kind is when you ask God for blessings. You kill a goat, sheep, chicken or a cow and you present it to God – "Here is your sacrifice," you say. You call all your friends and family into your courtyard to watch, and they will then all stay healthy. No sickness will catch them. If they look for wealth, they will find it. This is the first sacrifice.

The second kind of sacrifice is made when something bad has happened, like if your friend or elder has died. On the seventh day after his death, you kill a white chicken. You take its feathers and you put them beside the road. You then kill a goat, like we did here in Bomba. You offer it to Aatana God and to the ancestors so that they will give your loved one a safe journey to God’s home and a good place to live when he arrives. We use livestock to beg God to do this. It is a death sacrifice.

My name is John and I am the son of Muan Peu Gondo. All the people on earth, we all beg God to help us because we know Aatana created all people. We know God created everything on earth. Everyone everywhere begs God to help, but we don’t all do it in the same way. Here in Toura land, we do it with sacrifices. All of us are dirty, and so we sacrifice. This is how our ancestors did it. Before the white man arrived here, before the schools were established, our father’s father sacrificed. And so we do it that way too. If we don’t have any children, if we don’t have enough money or whatever issue is bothering us, we can beg God to help us through sacrifices. We can beg God to forgive us through sacrifices.

While we perform sacrifices all year long, three days of our year are more sacred than any other. The Festival of the Yams is our thanksgiving celebration to Aatana for the blessings of the past year. We paint our faces and bodies – a symbol of joy – and don our colorful costumes to dance all day and night long. It is during this party that our masks come out to dance – the holy masks, God’s play things, the symbols of his pleasure. All the power of the ancestors resides in the masks, and we worship them, we sacrifice to them and we fear them. Our women are not allowed to look directly upon them, and if the mask heads in their direction, they must run. They have no choice. They must run, for the power of the ancestors is drawing near. The most powerful, the most feared mask comes out only once a year at night. The women must hide in the houses, they must shut all their doors and windows before it arrives. To look upon it would mean death.

Powerless Blood, it does flow freely among the Toura. But there is light in the darkness. As of December 2000, about 10 churches are scattered among the 75 villages – tiny churches, struggling churches, but they are Jesus’ bride none the less. These believers are often snubbed, sometimes ostracized and they don’t have a good grasp of how to explain the hope that is within them. But they so much want to learn more, and they have a burden for their friends. They live in a world where salvation is unknown. They live among a people who’ve never heard of the powerful, cleansing blood of Jesus – the final, perfect sacrifice. Will you pray for the Toura?

…Pray for these Christians. Pray that they would learn to tell the story of God’s plan.

…Pray for those who yearn to please God but don’t know how to reach Him.

…Pray against the power and worship of the masks. Pray down the stronghold’s of animal totems.

…Pray that the Toura would know the truth, and the truth would set them free.

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