Ivory Coast Ethnic Groups

Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

In many post-colonial nations, ethnicity remains a tricky subject to this day. In this lesson, we'll look at the Ivory Coast, and see what ethnicity means in this nation today.

Cote d'Ivoire

You may have heard of the 'gold coast,' but how about the Ivory Coast? Gold isn't the only valuable thing to historically come out of Africa, after all. Colonial powers referred to a stretch of the West African coastline as the Ivory Coast due to the massive amounts of ivory that made it from Central Africa to the ports of the shore. Eventually, the Ivory Coast became a colony of France, and today is its own nation. In the U.S. call it the Ivory Coast, but they go by the French version: Cote d'Ivoire. Located on the Gulf of Guinea, in between the nations of Liberia, Mali, and Ghana, Cote d'Ivoire may not rely on ivory trade any more, but to the people who live here this coast will always be better than gold.

Cote d
Ivory Coast

Ethnicity in Cote d'Ivoire

So who are the people of Cote d'Ivoire? Like many African nations, Cote d'Ivoire was formed by colonial powers, and so many ethnic groups were brought together as a nation without there necessarily being a shared history between them. In fact, there are over 60 formally recognized ethnic groups in Cote d'Ivoire, each with its own language and customs. Generally, however, these can be categorized into 7 major groups of ethnicities that share similar ethno-linguistic traits.

Akan

The largest of the groups of ethnicities in Cote d'Ivoire are the Akan. Akan groups make up about 32% of the total population. The Akan ethnic groups are found throughout Cote d'Ivoire, as well as the neighboring nation of Ghana. The Akan languages belong to the Tano language family, and are spoken by roughly 20 million people across these nations. For centuries, the Akan dominated the trade routes along the coast of West Africa, bringing them into contact with Central African and European merchants alike. Today, the various Akan groups largely share a common identity, seeing themselves basically as one people with some regional ethnic distinctions. Many Akan traditions, especially their art, have become widely adopted throughout Cote d'Ivoire as sort of a national standard.

Traditional Akan statue
Akan

Other Groups

The Akan groups make up most of Cote d'Ivoire, but they are by no means alone. The second largest of the overarching groups is the Gur, sometimes called Voltaique. The Gur ethnic groups are mostly found in the northern part of Cote d'Ivoire, as well as in neighboring Mali and Ghana. While the largest of the Gur ethnic groups (the Mossi and Senufo) predominantly practice Sunni Islam, the other Gur groups tend to favor local religions. Altogether, the Gur people make up about 15% of Cote d'Ivoire's total population.

After the Gur, the next largest group are the Northern Mande, who also live (no surprise) predominantly in the north. A little over 12% of the nation belong to one of these groups. Following close behind them are the Krou, who make up around 10% of the population. However, one of the Krou groups, the Bete, is actually one of the larger single ethnic groups in the nation. The rest of the population generally belongs to one of the other three major groupings of ethnicities: the Peripheral Mande, Senoufou, and Lobi.

Each ethnic group maintains its own traditions, such as the metal jewelry of the Senoufou
Senoufou art

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