The endangered reality of traditional priestesses in Ivory Coast

They are credited with the power to cast spells and predict the future
“Komians”, traditional priestesses, dance and throw kaolin during the purification ceremony of a komian widow, in Amelekia, on November 28, 2018. – At the Adjoua Messouma Centre for the Initiation of Komians of Aniansue (CIKAMA), founded in 1992 and recognised by a ministerial decree in 2014, women train to become certified “komians”, or priestesses steeped in traditional lore, the properties of medicinal plants and the techniques of conflict resolution. “Komians” are credited with the power to cast spells and predict the future — at a time when the komians fear for their own future as modern society increasingly leaves tradition behind. (Photo by SIA KAMBOU / AFP)

In the eastern Ivorian town of Aniansue, these women, bodies embalmed in clay, swaying to the beat of drums, are training to become ‘komians’. At a time when modern society increasingly leaves tradition behind, komians are priestesses which according to traditional lore, are well versed in healing as well as conflict resolution. These women are a part of the Akan ethnic group which stretches across the border to Ghana, with more than 25 million members. Akan is from the traditional Ashanti kingdom. No local king or tribal chief can be enthroned without the intervention of these priestesses, whose school, set up in 1992, gained national recognition in 2014.

“The komian has a sanctifying role,” Pascal Abinan Kouakou, the Ivorian employment minister says. “She participates in the cohesion and stability of our regions.”

“Komians”, traditional priestesses, oust a dog as they dance and throw kaolin during the purification ceremony of a komian widow, in Amelekia, on November 28, 2018.(Photo by SIA KAMBOU / AFP)

But as the story goes, the school has not been taken care of, and has found itself in a constantly depreciating state. The school, bordered on one side by a teak plantation, features a large central courtyard with a giant mango tree in the middle, surrounded by houses, is doing the best it can to maintain a semblance of peace and order amidst its dilapidation. “Help us! We sleep rough — we have no dormitories while we take in dozens of patients each month,” said Adjoua Messouma, fouder of the Adjoua Messouma Centre for the Initiation of Komians of Aniansue (CIKAMA). 

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The Komian course lasts at least three years, with 20 graduates each year, who can then take official positions in their local villages or set up private practices. While some come to the school to for counseling, others come to the school seeking cures or treatments from the komians for conditions such as cancer, infertility, epilepsy and mental illnesses.

Students of the Adjoua Messouma Centre for the Initiation of Komians of Aniansue (CIKAMA), a school to become “komians”, traditional priestesses, dance in the courtyard of the school, in Amelekia, on November 27, 2018. (Photo by SIA KAMBOU / AFP)

“If we don’t look after the komians, this culture that is intrinsic to our society, could disappear,” said the Cameroonian employment minister, who was recently elected president of the regional council. He complained of a “lack of national policy to promote this cultural heritage”. “The komian has a sanctifying role,” he said. “She participates in the cohesion and stability of our regions.”

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The komians do get their their fair share of criticism, mostly from evangelical churches.” Today we are seen as the devil incarnate,” said 22-year-old Leonie Kouame, who put her university studies on hold in order to “study and commune with the spirits” — and become a komian. “We’re not afraid, despite the threats from the churches and we are not about to give up,” said komian Eba Kouakou, aged in her 60s and covered with dozens of talismans. In the meantime, Pascal Abinan Kouakou has promised to place the school on the tourist map as a means of promotion and fundraising. “I have a duty to ensure that it does not disappear,” said the minister, himself the grandson of a celebrated komian named Akua Mandjouadja, who ruled the region for many years.

Priestesses lift their arms as they proceed to the purification ceremony of the place of the Abissa, at the occasion of the Abissa annual festival, a ceremony of reconciliation and forgiveness of the N’Zima Kotoko people, in Grand-Bassam, on November 7, 2018. (Photo by Sia KAMBOU / AFP)

“The komian will never disappear.”

But in order to make sure it truly does not, the institution and its allies must find innovative ways to keep the knowledge coveted as it is grounded in the roots, but aware of contemporary movements in order to stay relevant and attract investment opportunities to be able to compete as an educational institution in the 21stCentury. ther regions.

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In the meantime, Pascal Abinan Kouakou has promised to place the school on the tourist map as a means of promotion and fundraising.

“I have a duty to ensure that it does not disappear,” said the minister, himself the grandson of a celebrated komian named Akua Mandjouadja, who ruled the region for many years.


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