Krindjabo (Côte d'Ivoire) (AFP) - An aide to an influential king in Ivory Coast has said the monarch could order a procession of naked women to ward off coronavirus by seeking the protection of spirits.
The king of Sanwi, based in the southeast of the world's top cocoa grower, held a special exorcism ceremony last week seeking divine intervention to protect his three million subjects against the epidemic.
Traditional kings and local chieftains have great authority and the event would normally have been attended by hundreds but due to coronavirus restrictions keeping gatherings to less than 50 people, a handful turned up.
"I ask God ... to protect the population and keep this virus away from the kingdom, Ivory Coast and the world," King Amon N'Douffou V said, speaking through his official announcer as royals do not address the public directly.
Traditional "komians" or women healers dressed in white purified the royal court by sprinkling alcohol to the strains of the "abodan", a traditional beat.
Those attending then daubed their faces with the wet earth as a sign of obeisance to the king and lifted their heads towards the sun.
Such ceremonies are held to ward off natural disasters such as droughts or floods.
Ivory Coast has more than 1,000 cases of the new coronavirus with 14 deaths and the government has roped in traditional rulers to enforce social distancing and other measures.
About 20 percent of the population is animist. Muslims and Christians account for 40 percent each and many members of the two faiths also practise animist rituals.
The king, resplendent in gold and draped in colourful tribal woven cloth, arrived for the ceremony in the village of Krindjabo, the capital of the kingdom, to the beating of tam-tam drums.
- 'Bad spirit' -
"We have gathered here to ward off this bad spell," he said, through the royal announcer, calling coronavirus a "bad spirit."
"Human beings have to redefine their space in this world and respect nature. Without that, we will always be confronted with these epidemics," he added.
After that, the king of the Akan people -- who live in Ivory Coast and neighbouring Ghana -- poured two bottles of alcohol on the ground.
"In Africa, we live in two worlds -- the visible and the invisible," said Ben Kottia, the king's counsellor. "Only kings have the power through this libation to demand the protection of the invisible world.
"The king can order women who hold this secret to perform the 'adjalou' -- a procession through the village to protect the people.
"During Adjalou, these women are naked and we confine men and children in their homes," he said.
"The women erect barricades at the entrance of villages to prevent bad spirits from entering and claiming lives."
The procession is kept secret until the previous day when the royal announcer goes through the village to say it will take place.