Keeping It Real in Grand Bassam

Azurety Speaks, Abissa 2012, Grand Bassam, Ivory Coast

The men of Azurety address their king, presenting him with an honest report card.

One of the most important aspects of the N’zima new year celebration, otherwise known as Abissa, is truth telling.  This portion of the festivities is particularly important because it facilitates respectful, yet forthright, communication amongst individuals and groups whose interactions are normally determined by a highly formal and stratified social organization.

Our foreign misconceptions of West Africans as a free-wheeling people, perhaps best stereotyped by musicians like Fela Kuti, ill prepares most of us to fully appreciate the nuances of N’zima social order and interactions.  Trust me, though, when I tell you that Abissa is the only time of the year the N’zima can address their king quite so openly and, occasionally, even impertinently.

This year’s report cards, presented by the men of the various villages that comprise the Kingdom of Grand Bassam were fairly mild, reflecting the population’s general satisfaction with their King.  The various groups expressed their gratitude for the role the King played in ensuring that Grand Bassam was added to the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites this year.  They also exhorted him to do everything in his power to guarantee the return of peace and stability to the Kingdom.

I thought you might enjoy seeing the attached clip of the young men of Grand Bassam addressing their King in song.  This footage was shot during the opening portion of the address.  In it, you hear the villagers welcoming and greeting their King.  You will notice that the men are all holding a stick, which represents equality and the right of all people to be heard before their King.

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