The Senufo people live in the country of Korhogo, located in the north of Côte d’Ivoire, on the borders of Mali and Burkina Faso. The country is located in the Sudan-Guinean zone. There are two seasons: a dry season starting in December and January with a dry wind called ‘’harmattan’’, then from June to December, a rainy season during which farming is extensive. Precipitation, very irregular, is manifested in the form of tornadoes and torrential downpours that ravage soils already well degraded. The country has a very well ramified hydrographic network; the most important of the rivers is the Bandama River. The Bandama River and its branches are bordered by forest galleries, tsetse flies; floods can be sudden and formidable.
The Senufo: Farmers Of Korhogo
It is in this geographical environment that the Senufo people from Korhogo came to seek refuge from Samory Touré and practice shifting cultivation. As soon as they arrived, they prospered in peace, with a strong organization.
For an area of 11,520 km2 (including the Boron Canton), the department of Korhogo has a population of 184,620 inhabitants according to the 1955 census, or 17.6 per square kilometre; in 1935 it had only 153,909 inhabitants, or 13.14 per km2. In twenty years, there has been a population increase of 30,711 inhabitants, a growth of nearly 17%
This population is very differently distributed throughout the department; densities are decreasing from East to West, from Bandama to the interior of the country. It should be noted that the highest densities are found on the least fertile land.
The Senufo people are installed well beyond the department of Korhogo; they live also in the neighbouring subdivisions of Boundiali and Ferkessédougou, but these are much less populated. Recent history explains the demographic density that characterizes the Korhogo region. The peoples from the East and the North settled during the time of Samory Touré conquest: sheltered behind the Bandama Valley, these emigrants were forced by their chiefs to remain grouped. The chiefs of the migrating groups became omnipotent lords in their fiefdom. This was the origin of territorial divisions which the French colonizers maintained and established into cantons. The set of several cantons forms an administrative subdivision and one or more subdivisions constitute a circle. Korhogo is the main town of the circle and subdivision that bear its name
The population of the Korhogo circle belongs to the Senufo ethnic group. It includes seven sub-ethnic groups which, from North to South, are: Tagbambele, Kassembele, Kiembabele, Nafam-Bele, Kafibele, Fodonon-Kouflo, and Gbonzoro. These sub-ethnic groups are differentiated by the dialects that gave them their name, by religious practices, all animists, sometimes by the types of cultures and agrarian landscapes.
In troubled times, conflicts were frequent, and the defeated became slaves of the most powerful who could sell them. But after the appeasement of the country by the French and the suppression of slavery, many slaves remained in the dependence of their lord; they felt assimilated in their family, were integrated there as well as their descendants; the lord not became their master, but their brother or father. If cantonal chiefs and their families were formerly considered as forming the upper class of Senufo society, today, after the assimilation of slaves and given the current political life based on European-style democratic principles, any stratification has disappeared.
Among the Senufo, the restricted family, the ghâgui, is composed of both spouses and their children, all leaving in the husband household. The ghâgui is an integral part of the extended family, the narigbâ, which is the traditional base of Senufo society. The narigbâ groups all direct uterine descendants of a common ancestor. One can thus be of the same father but not of the same narigbâ. The composition of this extended family, narigbâ, is as follows: the head of the family (the oldest ascendant); his home (women and children); his brothers, their wives and children; his sisters, aunts and unmarried or widowed cousins, the children of the latter, the emancipated descendants of former captives.
The chief of the narigbâ is the oldest living ancestor: he has the title of nargbāhâfolo. He alone is authorized to mediate between the spirits of dead ancestors and the living. Every sacrifice or offering to ask for the benevolence of the protecting spirits must be sponsored by him or one of his delegates. He alone has the ability to intervene with the transcendent forces that govern the life cycle of the family. The nargbāhâfolo is the person in charge and the manager of the common property left by the ancestors; he is in particular the chief of land or tarfolo. Also it is common to find in each village several tarfolo, according to the number of the first founders of the village. It is understandable then that the chief of the land is not necessarily that of the village. He serves as an intermediary between the members of the extended family, and all the members of the narigbâ owe him total obedience and deference. Tasks are carefully distributed among the various members of the family. The head of the family disposes of the property of the community for which he is responsible for. He will bequeath to his successors an inheritance free of any kind of dishonour.
The direct assistants of the nargbāhâfolo are those who are called to succeed him immediately; they often remain with him, especially when he deals with other families with questions relating to the interests of the family of which he is the head: sale and purchase of harvesting products or loincloths, weddings, funerals, etc. In the Senufo country, the inheritance is undivided. It is a collective good that belongs rightfully and completely to the leader of the narigbâ. Only the members of this social entity, the direct descendants of the same ancestor and those of their captives can claim the succession of nargbāhâfolo.
The Senufo country of the Korhogo department consist of three zones:
1°) a densely populated area inhabited by Kiembara and Nafaga; due to lack of land and population pressure, all crops are cultivated there;
2°) a zone of the yam which extends from the Gbonzoro of Kiémou to Kafibélé including the Fodonon-Kouflo; here, the yam predominates, often accompanied by rice
3°) a zone of millet which extends to the North-West and North of the subdivision, including the country of Tagbambélé and Kas-sembélé; millet is king here, although other crops are not lacking
In this Senufo country, with soft terrain, the main factor determining the location of villages is water. They are all located near a river, either at its source or on the slopes, rarely at the top of interfluves. But the habitat has always avoided the proximity of large rivers: despite the lack of fertile land, and although the banks of large rivers in the country are covered with silt and humus, the Senufo peasant does not dare to venture there only to hunt or to gather some medicinal plants.
Another characteristic of Senufo habitat is its grouping. The village is built on a roughly circular plan. In the middle stands very often the chief’s house. While all the huts are round and covered with a thatched roof, the dwelling of the village chief is often characterized by a rectangular terraced structure, sometimes with one or two floors high. This construction dominates the disorderly grouping of the dry earthen huts alongside the cylindrical granaries topped with a conical thatched roof. The main square of the village is located outside, it is reserved for the great ceremonies sponsored by the initiates of the cult of sacred wood.
The roofs of the huts vary according to the regions. In Kiembara village, they are made of thatch which is renewed every two or three years. In the Nafaga, they consist of small millet stalks, while in the yam area, quackgrass is harvested annually to cover the huts. In the north, in the canton of M’Bengué, although thatch is used for roofing, the Sudanese influence is however showing by a large number of terraced huts. All these constructions in dried soil are permanent; reconstructed from time to time, they can endure atmospheric weather for decades. When the field is very far from the village, the farmers, before beginning the ploughing, build quickly temporary huts with branches, tree trunks and thatch. It is a good shelter when it rains. Very rarely, in the middle of the rainy season, when field work is harsh, some farmers spend the night there in a hammock, without their family. This hut lasts as long as the field is exploited and the farmer transports it with him when moving to other lands.