Every village in the Ivory Coast has an area of the nearby forest where the spirits of their ancestors live. It is the sacred forest of each group, a place which is taboo for strangers.
Here, the young men are brought to be initiated, circumcisions are carried out, they speak to the masks of wisdom, and justice is imparted.
In the sacred forest of the Dan villages, the great Dan villages dances to the frenetic rhythm of the superb percussion orchestra.
It has tubular eyes and a large mouth. It is invoked to resolve problems of justice, or important matters that affect the entire community.
It is a mask of peace, and for this reason is greatly revered. The women dance to worship it, and to ask for its blessing. Its decisions are final. Any who disobey them are punished and die, poisoned by the executioners of the Gor secret society.
From out of this mysterious atmosphere of the jungle, rises like a ghost the enormous dome of the Basilica of Yammasoukro.
It is a copy of the Vatican, a colossal place of worship in the middle of the forest. One thousand five hundred men, working day and night, took three years to build it.
It was the dream of a devout man, the first President of the Ivory Coast, Felix Ufue-Buañi, who ruled from the time of independence, in 1963, until he died, in 1993.
The holy complex, which includes an exact copy of Saint Peter’s Square, including Bernini’s colonnade, was completed in 1989 and consecrated by Pope John Paul II in 1990, during his third visit to this country.
Ufue-Buañi squandered a great part of his fortune on this titanic construction, which he then donated to the Vatican, the present owners of this basilica, now maintained by the Curia of Rome.
128 Doric columns 30 metres in height, 7 hectares of marble brought from Italy, France and Spain, and 7,400 square metres of stained glass windows, make up this monumental construction. But it is always empty, because the people of this region have other beliefs, other gods to worship.
In this drawing we can appreciate the dimensions of this basilica, on the right, compared to the Vatican, on the left.
One of its twenty-four large stained glass windows represents the arrival of Jesus Christ in Jerusalem. Kneeling at the side of the donkey which carries Jesus, we can se Ufue-Buañi, dressed as an apostle.
On the left, wearing tunics from that time, the architect of the basilica, the Lebanese Pier Facouri, and his assistants, welcome the Lord.
There is sitting room for 7,000 people. Each pew has its own loudspeakers and air-conditioning grille.
Beneath the baldaquin, presiding over the gigantic presbyter, a cross of solid gold, weighing 50kg., tries unsuccessfully to convince the Africans that Jesus Christ was just as poor as they are.