Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Coming Up -- The Abissa

I am now not quite a month out from my departure this year for Ivory Coast. It promises to be an especially interesting and exciting one.

Like last year's trip, this one will be primarily photographic. I'm planning on taking 4,000 to 5,000 photos. My objectives will be threefold: 1) To get enough photos to finish a photo book on Ivory Coast and The Gambia; 2) To photograph the Ivory Coast Bodybuilding Championships for my friends; and 3) To photograph the last few days of the "Abissa."

The Abissa is a local holiday said to last approximately two weeks. As I understand it -- and I reserve the right to be wrong and to correct my mistakes as I learn of them -- the calendar of the N'Zima people, who occupy an area that is now comprised of Southern Cote d'Ivoire and part of Ghana, is 50 weeks long, The extra two weeks are given over to celebrations and occur at approximately the same time each year. My trip was scheduled and my air travel reserved for dates that bring me to Cote d'Ivoire for just the last few days of the celebration. Next year I should plan on coming earlier because I will miss the first week of the event.

While I am there at the end of the celebrations, there will be a reception for N'Zima businessmen on one day, another reception for N'Zima chiefs on another, a procession of 50+ bodybuilders dressed as traditional N'Zima warriors through the old French Capital of Grand Bassam, and a bodybuilding competition. There may be dancing and drumming and all kinds of other things packed into those last few days, too, but I don't yet know what the schedule is like.

Two especially interesting aspects of this celebration -- I am told, and haven't verified it from several sources -- that husbands and wives get rid of their pent-up aggressions against each other by cross-dressing and publicly making fun of each other; and the Abissa itself is said to represent the origins of Caribbean carnivales, the idea having been taken from this area by slaves who were shipped to the New World.

Granbd Bassam, where the celebrations take place, was for just a few years at the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth, the colonial capital of France in the area. This ended after about six years when an epidemic of yellow fever wiped out 3/4 of the people, both locals and French. The capital was quickly moved elsewhere, but many of the old French colonial-style buildings are said still to be there, some restored, many in disrepair and occupied by squatters.

I will try to get photos up in this blog soon after my return in mid-November.