Saturday, April 2, 2016 7:31 pm
Dressed in flowing red robes, a traditional religious group gathers on the beach to purify sands left bloodied by the unprecedented jihadist attack that killed 19 people in Ivory Coast.
Walking across the beach in Grand-Bassam, Antoine Edoukou Amichia, a member of the local royalty, stands out from the crowd in a white t-shirt, holding a bottle of liquor and a small glass.
“I implore the sea and the spirits of Bassam to do everything so that the people who caused blood to spill on Bassam’s beach are apprehended and punished,” he says, facing the Atlantic Ocean. With each word, he pours drops of the locally-brewed whisky onto the sand.
Fifteen people have been arrested in connection with the first jihadist attack in the Ivory Coast that was claimed by Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb in retaliation for anti-terror operations in the Sahel region led by France and its allies.
The jihadist group had also claimed attacks in Mali in November and Burkina Faso in January, likewise targeting venues frequented by foreigners.
The victims at Grand-Bassam included a Nigerian, four French citizens, a German a Macedonian and a Lebanese national who were enjoying the popular seaside resort a short drive from the country’s economic hub Abidjan.
Eight Ivorian civilians and three special forces troops were also gunned down, according to the government.
After the funerals and with an investigation under way, some Ivorians have now turned to ancestral traditions to find healing from the attack.
Ancestral royals in Ivory Coast are held in high esteem for their wisdom. Politicians often visit these local leaders before making or announcing decisions.
On the beach at Grand Bassam, the “prophet” Ahoua Konin II, a traditional priest, continues the purification ceremony to banish “demonic” acts like that of the jihadists.
Surrounded by the faithful, he chants and raises a glass of water to the sky before spraying it on the sand.
Two white goats are then butchered as children watch, wide-eyed.
“We have asked the ancestors to ensure that an attack never happens again,” says the red-robed Ahoua Konin.
The purification ritual has been going on for a week under Amon Tanoe, the king of Grand-Bassam.
“Komians”, worshippers dressed in white with their bodies covered with clay, had traveled along the coast to call out the ancestors before the final ceremony.
“These ancestral practices continue today in order to chase away bad spirits,” says Ivorian filmmaker Roger Gnoan M’Bala, who comes from Grand-Bassam, the former French colonial capital and a UNESCO world heritage site.
“If you don’t carry out these rituals, the future is hard to predict,” he says.