The Kouya of Côte d’Ivoire, A Forgotten People of the Forest

Denis Ramseyer

Denis Ramseyer, a lecturer (chargé d’enseignement) at the Université de Neuchâtel and assistant director of the Laténium (2000–2016), holds a bachelor’s degree in Ethnology-Archaeology-History and a doctorate in Prehistory. He discovered the Côte d’Ivoire in 1971, at the age of nineteen. He has continued since then to take an interest in that country, especially the Kouya ethnic group, pursuing in succession photojournalism (1972), field research in ethnology (1975), and an ethno-archaeological study (1998). Since 2009 he has been working with the Musée des Civilisations and the Université Félix Houphouët-Boigny in Abidjan, endeavoring to promote and preserve the heritage of Côte d’Ivoire. He has also facilitated the reintroduction of field studies and the training of young Côte d’Ivoire researchers in the Human Sciences.

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Field research, photojournalism, notes, and regular correspondence with a Kouya interlocutor and friend have been patiently assembled over forty-five years. The world described in this book has in great part disappeared. In the last decade of the twentieth century, deforestation, climate change, and the intrusion into the region of Christian missionaries transformed the way of life of this likable people proud of its traditions. The Kouya belong to one of the smallest but also one of the least-known ethnic groups of Côte d’Ivoire. They speak a language that in 2001 was declared to be among the most threatened on the planet. This people of fewer than twenty thousand individuals had the misfortune of finding itself at the center of the conflict zone that ravaged the country in 2002–2003 and then again in 2010–2011. This account retraces the transformation of the traditional way of life and the rapid evolution of a forest society that has found itself caught in the grip of a war between the northern and southern parts of the country, which has forced an entire population to adapt to a new and unstable situation.

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