Sunday, May 26, 2013


They say Candy Crush is the bane of every great chef. Well, ok, no one actually said that, and since I’m not a great chef, it’s doesn’t matter, because I finally passed level 29.  I’ve been on that level for over a week. It is also the day of the 97th running of the Indianapolis 500 race. And since I live in Indianapolis, it’s a pretty big deal. The whole city has been decorated in black and white checks for weeks. When I was a kid, the entire month of May was one huge festival. In fact, I used to think that the three-day weekend was for Race Day instead of Memorial Day.
This will be my breakfast tomorrow morning. Well, not this bowl. I ate it after taking the picture.  
Today’s meal from Chad was one that I was looking forward to since I gathered my recipes together.  I started out making the Saffron Sweet Potato Pudding, or Pudding de Patates douces au Safran. I used two large sweet potatoes, peeled them, cut them into small pieces, and boiled them for 25 minutes.  I then drained the potatoes and put in some milk, heavy whipping cream, sugar, saffron and cardamom. After that, I put it back on the stove and let it simmer for a little over an hour until it got to a thick puree, like the consistency of baby food. Then I garnished it with a pinch of ground cardamom. I loved this dish. I think it would make a great filler in a tart.
Explaining the scientific concept of melting. 
Then I got started on our bread.  For this, I chose a Chadian version of beignets soufflés.  I had eaten beignets at the International Fest a few years ago at a New Orleans booth, but I’ve never made them before. I started out boiling some water and putting in the salt, sugar and butter. I had my daughter doing the stirring on this one. Then I dumped in all of the flour in the mix, and it almost immediately soaked up all of the liquid. At this point we had to let it cool – I just shoved it in the refrigerator for a while. When it was finally cool, it called to add two eggs. I think I may have been able to get away with just one, because it seemed really liquidy now. But I went ahead and fried them up and topped them with powdered sugar, and they were really good. They went over well with the family.  It also helps that I have tried to hone my frying skills. I have found that not burning everything that I fry has a direct impact on my family’s well-being.
The recipe didn't yield very much. In fact, they're gone. 

And finally, I made entrée. I chose tilapia au four (baked tilapia). We love tilapia and probably have it 1-2 times a month. I like it because it doesn’t have a strong fish smell or taste. For this recipe, I rubbed chopped onions, garlic, fresh chopped parsley and olive oil onto the tilapia filets that were placed in a baking dish. Then I poured a can of diced tomatoes on top and seasoned with a little salt and pepper. I baked it for a half hour in the oven. This is definitely a dish I will repeat because it was so easy and tasted wonderful. The fresh parsley made a HUGE difference in the flavors.
There's tilapia hiding under all of those tomatoes. 
And just because I love my kids, they requested asparagus to go with it. I think they were thinking of a similar dish I made for this blog – and I forget which country it was from.  I have no idea if asparagus grows in Chad or if they even eat it at all. But here was the conversation that ensued:

                  Marisa: “Can we have asparagus with cheese on it?”
                  Me: “Well, we’re making food from Chad. I’m not sure if they even eat asparagus in 
                  Marisa: “Of course they do. I read it on the Internet. And the Internet doesn’t lie.”
                  Me: “Umm… hmmm… ok. Asparagus it is. Wait. When were you reading about  
                       Chadian cuisine online?”
                  Marisa: “Don’t ask questions.”

But instead of using farmers cheese like I did last time, I used crumbled feta cheese.  At least they’re eating vegetables, so in a way, I won.
The final product, with non-Chadian asparagus. 
I loved this meal. Everything about it. And it went over well with the family, too.  I always appreciate meals that the whole family enjoys. And now it’s time to relax, maybe catch the recast of the race, even though I already know that Tony Kanaan won. I promise I’ll look surprised, though.

Up next: Chile


Because Chad has a ton of ethnic groups spread across the region, you can imagine that their music is as diverse.  Different groups have their own variations in musical style, instrumentation.  It’s probably best to describe their music in reference to the various ethnic groups.

The Fulani people tend to use single-reed flutes, but they’ll also use a 5-string kinde (a type of arched harp).  You’ll also hear the use of various kinds of horns in their music as well. People in the Tibesti region tend to make use of lutes and fiddles as well. Although you will find a cappella vocal music, using claps as accompaniment. One common form you find throughout many areas of Africa is a call and response. 

The certain ceremonies, such as coronations, long ceremonial trumpets are used; these musical ensembles who use these kind of trumpets along with other brass instruments are called “waza” or “kakaki.”

The Teda people, who live near the Tibesti mountains on the Chad-Libya border, has a strong folk music tradition. The men play various string instruments as an accompaniment to women’s folk singing. The men use the string instruments as their “voice” since in their culture, it’s inappropriate for men to sing in front of adult women. Something tells me there won’t be any Frank Sinatra-esque crooning going on.

A lot of the other instruments used in Chadian traditional music is also found across the Sahel and northern Africa regions as well. Different kinds of percussion instruments, string instruments and horns are popular instruments and are used in their music, no matter which tribe you belong to and which region you live in.

As far as popular music goes, the major influences comes from styles generating our of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Styles like soukous and sai are found among many of the Chadian popular music styles today. I found a group called Tibesti (the album Tebeïn le Tëhl) on Spotify, and I liked the vast majority of their music. I wish I could actually find a CD of them, though. 

Like many other African countries in this region, traditional dance go hand in hand with traditional music. And many of the dances are named after the style of music it is associated with. Dance in these areas is usually either telling a story, performed as part of a ceremony, or merely for entertainment. In the city of N’Djamena, there are many dance clubs and bars with dance nights that are very popular as means of entertainment.

Up next: the food!

Friday, May 24, 2013


Chadian art tends to fall into two categories: functional art, and art that is made for tourists. Items that fall into the functional art category would be baskets, clay pots, woven fans, etc. The woven fans and baskets are dyed with pigments from plants, flowers, and other natural ingredients, with purple and green being the most widely used colors.

When I think about making clay pots, I think of slapping the clay on a potters wheel and forming the pottery on that.  But in Chad, many don’t have that luxury. They form it strictly with their hands. And whereas we use a kiln to fire the pieces (which are really expensive – I’ve looked into buying one), they start a fire with pieces of wood and straw and get it really hot. Then they put the piece in the fire. And after a while, they cover the piece and the fire in sand and leave it there overnight.

And of course, there is the other kind of art: that for the tourist. This includes greeting cards, post cards, paintings, various textile arts, jewelry, etc. Most of this art is created by women to supplement the family’s income while the men are out doing agricultural work or other manual labor work.

French is the major language of Chadian literature, although some writers do produce written works in Arabic as well. Chadian authors actually tend to sell more works in France because the instability of the government.  The repressive nature of anyone who dares to speak out against the conditions in the country makes it really hard for these writers to get published. There are many books written about the conditions of their country and criticisms of the government.  Of course, there are also many books written on folklore, legends, and other stories that have been passed down.

There aren’t too many Chadian authors that are well known, and especially outside of Chad and France. Ahmat Taboye is the country’s lone literary critic.  He published his Anthologie de la littérature tchadienne in 2003, noting forty years of Chadian literature. He currently works at the University of N’Djamena as the head of the Department of Letters.  Joseph Brahim Seïd was a writer and politician (serving as Minister of Justice during the late 1960s-early 1970s) who wrote a couple of books in the 1960s. Baba Moustapha was a playwright whose finest work was published a year after his death in 1983, a play called Commandant Chaka. Antoine Bangui was a politician and was imprisoned for three years in the 1970s because he disagreed with President Tombalbaye and got on his wrong side. When he was released he published a book on his time in prison followed by an autobiography. His life afterwards is a mix of various political activities and writing more books. Koulsy Lamko is a playwright and novelist among other things, who studied in Burkina Faso where he met Thomas Sankara. He later studied in Rwanda where he wrote his only novel – La phalène des collines, about the 1994 Rwandan genocide.

Up next: music and dance

Tuesday, May 21, 2013


New Year’s Day (January 1).  There are a lot of festivities around this time, and many people celebrate the holiday with good food shared with friends and family. Like many other places, Chadians bring in the new year with fireworks displays and greetings of good fortune and well-being for the coming year.

Prophet’s birthday (varies).  Shia and Sunni Muslims have slightly different traditions for the Prophet’s birthday, otherwise known as Mawlid an Nabi.  This holiday celebrates the birth of the prophet Muhammad.  Special prayer services are held at mosques around the country.

International Women’s Day (March 8). In Chad, Women’s Day is a fairly large event.  The week prior to Women’s Day is known as SENAFET, or le Semaine Nationale de la Femme Tchadienne (National Chadian Women Week).  During this week, there are a range of activities, including races, contests, a day off of school for girls, community celebrations and parades but may also include educational seminars and programs in health and family care, etc.

Easter Monday (varies).  Most businesses and schools are closed on this day, the day after Easter. Christianity is followed by nearly a third of Chadians, and Easter is a major holiday for them. Many churches and missionary centers have special Easter Sunday services. Most people celebrate with a large luncheon afterwards. Easter Monday is generally treated as a day of rest. 

Labor Day (May 1).  Like most other countries that celebrate Labor Day, Chad also celebrates it on May 1. Most businesses and schools are closed on this day, and people use this day to spend with friends and family doing recreational activities and relaxing.

Eid al-Fitr (varies).  This Muslim holiday celebrates the end of the month-long fast of Ramadan. People generally celebrate with an elaborate feast held with friends and family.  Chadian Muslims will also attend special prayer services at their mosque. 

Independence Day (August 11). There are a lot of festivities that mark this day of independence from France back in 1960. There are speeches from various members of government, parades that wind their way through the streets, and many cities and towns have music concerts and dances in the streets as well as the ever-favorite soccer games. 

Eid al-Adha (varies). Also known as Feast of the Sacrifice, this is one of the major Muslim holidays. It’s centered around the story of Abraham attempt to sacrifice his only child because God asked him to. Traditionally, an animal is sacrificed and the meat is divided between the family, their relatives, and the needy. Nowadays, many people emphasize the practice of charitable giving. In Chad, this holiday lasts three days, and many businesses, schools, and government offices are closed.

All Saint’s Day (November 1).  All Saint’s Day is the Christian (and especially Catholic) holiday that celebrates all of the saints. Many saints already have their own feast days, but this holiday is used to celebrate all of them, including the ones that don’t already have a day of their own. Some Chadian Christians attend special church services, while everyone else enjoys the day off.

Republic Day (November 28). This is the day that Chad declared itself a republic after gaining independence. It’s celebrated in much of the same ways that Independence Day is celebrated, with festivities and parades and soccer games and such, and people decorate their cities with the national colors of red, yellow, and blue and proudly wave their flags.

Freedom and Democracy (December 1).  This day is in honor of Idriss Déby and the defeat of rebel commander Hissène Habré.  Habré was the former defense minister who was at the heart of a coup and put the country into chaos from 1983 until 1990 when Déby overtook the government and ousted the rebels. Most businesses and schools are closed on this day in remembrance of these events.

Christmas (December 25).  Many of the Christmas traditions in Chad were borrowed and introduced from European traditions, such as putting up Christmas trees and holly.  Although, I’m not sure if their trees are fake evergreens or if they substitute it for some local tree or shrubbery.  They also hang lights and teach their children to be good or Santa won’t bring them presents.  Most people celebrate this day with a special meal and spend time with family. 

Up next: art and literature

Sunday, May 19, 2013


Many things come to mind when I think the word “chad.” There are hanging chads, which were the bane of the 2000 presidential election here in the States. There’s the male name Chad – especially the baker Chad Robertson whose name kept popping up when I tried to search for “bread recipes from Chad.”  But what I’m thinking of is the country of Chad in central Africa and Lake Chad, for which the country is named after.

Chad lies landlocked in the center of Africa, surrounded by Libya, Sudan, Central African Republic, Cameroon, Nigeria, and Niger. The country is part of the Sahel region, just south of the Sahara Desert, and the top third is covered by the Sahara Desert. The country is generally flat, a thin layer of sand covers everything with random clumps of trees scattered here and there, like a giant threw handfuls of seeds out. Desertification is a problem in this country, with the Sahara extending itself like an unwanted houseguest and taking over what little fertile land there was. Even the capital city of N’Djamena (pronounced n-ja-MAY-nah) has sand spilling out into the streets, giving it the feeling of being a rural town, rather than the largest city in the country and a base city for non-governmental agencies in Chad and other nearby countries in central Africa – just across the river from N’Djamena lies Cameroon.  Lake Chad is also important to the country (and not just because of its namesake), but because it provides water for the four neighboring countries to it (Chad, Cameroon, Niger, and Nigeria). It’s a fairly shallow lake, so it’s sensitive to changes in the wet/rainy seasons.   

Chad is in one of the oldest areas of Africa; it’s been inhabited for over 2000 years, partly by the great Sao civilization. Not much is known about them since nothing’s been written down. The only things we know are the stories that have been passed down from generation to generation and the artifacts that they’ve left behind, mostly highly-skilled pieces of bronze, copper, and iron works. Later, the Muslim traders that came in and stole slaves from Central African Republic and Cameroon also hit Chadian villages as well. The beginning of the 20th century brought French imperialism (most sources I read called it “French holdings,” as if taking over someone’s country and raping it for their resources were merely a business deal. Probably was.), which lasted for nearly sixty years. They officially won their independence in August of 1960.  Since then, they have been plagued with opposition wars, civil wars, insurgencies, battles, and coups.  Some of the fighting in Darfur spilled over the border into Chad as well. Like what’s happening in Central African Republic and other countries, getting food and medical supplies to those who need it is a difficult task in these areas that are controlled by the warlords and rebel fighters. Refugee camps are hidden away throughout the jungle with little access to getting inside or leaving.

As far as religion goes, it’s fairly a diverse country. A little more than half of the people are Muslim, and a little more than a third are Christian. There are other groups represented as well: Jehovah’s Witnesses, Bahá’í, animism, atheists and others.

Because of its location and history, Chad has two official languages: Arabic and French. While there are over 120 local languages that are spoken in villages throughout the country, one of the larger local ones is Sara, a language that is widely spoken in the southern regions of Chad.

The capital city of N’Djamena only has roughly a little more than a million people and about 1.6 million if you include the metro area – which makes it about the size of Philadelphia, PA. It was originally called Fort Lamy by the French, named after a French commander who had been killed in battle a few days before this. After gaining independence, the new government changed it to a more Afrocentric name, N’Djamena. It was based on an Arabic-named village nearby, meaning “place of rest.” It lies on the Chari and Logone Rivers. It’s become the center for government, center of business and trade, center for the arts, and the home to the country’s only university: the University of N’Djamena (classes taught in French) and the King Faisal University of Chad (classes taught in Arabic).

Statistically, this country falls toward the bottom of the list when it comes to human development and stability, making it one of the poorest and most corrupt countries in the world. They’ve got the 4th highest death rate in the world: number one in maternal mortality, sixth in infant mortality. Almost half of the people don’t have access to clean water, only 13% of Chadians have access to adequate sanitation. These things contribute to a higher risk for diseases such as hepatitis A, typhoid fever, but also malaria, meningococcal meningitis and rabies. A third of kids under five are underweight. 35% of those 15 and old are literature in either Arabic or French (and that figure was closer to 25% ten years ago!). This makes it hard for people to move outside of manual labor, which is where most of the jobs that are even available lie. Because it’s such a poor country and most people don’t hold outside jobs, they don’t even calculate an unemployment rate. Although close to 80% of the people base their living off of some kind of agricultural work, there is some exportation of oil from the country as well. Despite this, it still relies heavily on foreign aid and assistance, but the corruption and instability in infrastructure hinders this aid from getting where it’s needed. The median age is 16 – which at that rate, I should be close to dying if not already gone – and I’m only 33.

Even though it’s had some rough history here and there, I’m convinced that it’s not all bad. There has to be something that’s pretty cool. (Unlike it’s weather which stays pretty hot. I checked on my Weather Channel app, and this weekend, the city of N’Djamena has a heat index of 125˚F. I’m pretty sure my freckled Scottish-German mixed skin would simply burst into flames.) The cuisine seems to be a mix of traditional African and incorporated French, which means we should be eating pretty well next weekend (if I don’t screw it up).  One of the best things that has been recommended to see in Chad is the Zakouma National Park. It’s become a refuge and protected area for much of the local wildlife. The best time to see them would be in March and April when the animals make their way to the watering holes. The rainy season comes in June through October which makes travel really hard, causing many creeks and rivers swell to twice its normal size.

Up next: holidays and celebrations

Sunday, May 12, 2013


The weather today on this Mother’s Day was crisp in the mid-50s, and in fact, there’s even a frost advisory out for tonight. I woke up with a sore throat from the weather and quickly remembered that I hadn’t taken my allergy meds for a week and a half. I did manage to get up and head over to Starbucks to read for an hour as a treat to myself, hoping that free coffee would do the trick – if you return the empty ground coffee bag, you get a free tall coffee. (Didn’t really work. Until Starbucks starts serving cardamom coffee, probably not gonna happen.) After that, it was more or less a comedy of errors for this meal. Forget orange juice, at least I had my coffee. 

I started out making African salad: a salad of baby bella mushrooms (that I used as a substitute for champignon mushrooms), hearts of palm, and artichoke hearts, garlic, and lemon juice. The dressing was made of olive oil, Dijon mustard, white wine vinegar, and a little salt and pepper. Needless to say, it certainly cleans out your sinuses and GI track, I suppose. I chose this thinking I would be the only one who would like this, but that wasn’t necessarily the case. I thought there was too much vinegar, but my daughter had seconds, and my husband (who normally despises artichokes) thought it was good. Hmm, you just never know. (I also bought some ginger beer to drink with it, and between the ginger and the vinegar, my body thought it was going to practically die from being sanitized from the inside out. I poured it out and grabbed a real beer instead, something my body is far more familiar with.)
All my favorites smothered in twice the amount of vinegar needed
Next, I made benne cakes. The benne seed is known as sesame seeds in the US. This is more of a cookie than a cake as we know it. It’s popular to eat them around New Years or Kwanzaa since it’s commonly believed that sesame seeds bring good luck. Well, I know now that THAT is not true because they came out looking no more like a cookie than I do as a ballet dancer. Well, it's was one giant cookie, I suppose. 

One giant cookie, which would be cool if you didn't have to chisel it out. 
As I tried to use my cookie spatula to loosen them from being atomically integrated with the cookie sheet, it crumbled before my eyes, broken to pieces like my dreams of eating cookies larger than the size of my thumb. As the irregular pieces were shoved to the side, I finally got pieces that might possibly be photo worthy. However, after sampling some of my discard pile, I realized it tastes a little like peanut brittle, but with sesame seeds instead of peanuts – and softer, no chances of breaking your teeth on these. All in all, it was quite tasty, even if they didn’t really turn out like a cookie as I know it.
The few pieces I managed to get out -- the prom queen of the bunch. 
Finally, it was time for the meal. I chose mbika with meat. It’s basically stew beef sautéed with onions and chili peppers (I chose poblanos for a milder flavor). Then I mixed the ground egusi (which I found at the international grocery store – it’s ground watermelon seeds) and a little salt and pepper. The recipe also called to mix in a beef bouillon cube or Maggi cube/sauce, but all of that stuff has MSG in it, so I used an all-natural beef broth concentrate. This mixture gets mixed in with the meat mixture until it looks like a paste with chunks of meat and peppers sticking out here and there, like a meat-filled fruitcake (would that be a meatcake?). This mixture gets put in the middle of a banana leaves and folded up. 

Like Christmas in May. 
Now, this is my first experience with banana leaves – I found some at the international grocery store for less than $2 for two leaves. These leaves are longer than I am tall (I’ve been 5 foot and ½ inch since 1993 when I was in the 8th grade).  I cut them into fourths, folded the tops and bottoms, then the sides and tied it together with some twine, placing them on a cookie sheet to put in the oven. The banana leaves changed its flavor giving it an almost earthy quality to the mbika with meat inside.
Food from the CAR. Not to be confused with food from the car. 
I’m sure if someone who knew what they were doing made this, like someone who’s actually from the CAR, this meal would’ve turned out far better. And most people reared back and made a face when I told them I was cooking on Mother’s Day.  For some reason, we’ve got this attitude that cooking is on the same level as laundry or cleaning the bathroom. No, no it’s not. And I suppose it IS a mundane chore if you’re making the same ol’, same ol’. But, you know, even if it doesn’t always come together, I’m going out on a limb and hoping my kids will appreciate all of this much more when they get older. It’s not always going to go exactly how it’s supposed to, I suppose, but as long as it’s palatable in some sort of form, I’m winning.

Up next: Chad

Saturday, May 11, 2013


Tucked away far from the cities in the Central African Republic lies some of the greatest ethnomusical finds of the century. Well, maybe last century.  There are two notable styles of folk music in this area: that of the Banda people and that of the Pygmy people.

The Banda music has been described as “jazzy,” utilizing trumpets and other instruments.  The ongo is an instrument made of wood or the horn of antelopes, and a lot of times, it was used in various ceremonies. The thing about the Banda’s music is that because of it’s jazzy sound, it became somewhat popular outside of this area and outside of Africa. 

The Pygmies have a style of music that uses polyphony and counterpoint.  It’s almost always divided into four parts, with one of the parts functioning as an ostinato bass, except it utilizes variations and may even be closer to a passacaglia. It’s just really hard to believe that in the past (and still today), many people, especially the Europeans who colonized these areas called the native tribes primitive and savages, and that they have no capacity for understanding higher, more complex thinking. It’s absurd. How can Bach be a genius because he utilized polyphony and counterpoint, but Pygmies in central Africa are incapable of such depth even though they utilize it as well? Africans were thriving at commerce and arts when Europeans were still throwing their excrement in the streets. I’m really hoping that there will be a point when we realize that and stop all of this nonsense that certain peoples are innately dumb. All peoples have positives and negatives. Anyway… The Pygmies also use the style known as liquindi, or water drumming. It’s mostly performed by women and girls who stand in the water and cups their hand to hit the surface of the water, making a percussive sound. Some of the other instruments that are primarily used by the Pygmies are bow harp (ieta), ngombi (harp zither), and a limbindo (a string bow). This is an excellent video that goes into much more detail about their music and accompanying dance of their tribe. 

The Ngbaka people use a type of instrument called the mbela, which is made from an arched piece of wood (usually a branch) with a string strung between the two ends, like a bow and arrow.  The performer will put their mouth on the end to use as a resonator. It’s one of the several ancestors to modern string instruments, and there are several variations of this instrument throughout the world.

The sanza, also called mbira or kalimba, is also a popular instrument throughout central and southern Africa.  I was in college taking a required world music course as part of the music major curriculum when I first heard of the mbira. I fell in love with it and with its sound – it was mesmerizing. Last year, I finally ordered one via the Internet. I play it, making up my own songs as a stress release.  The basic construction is a block of wood with metal keys made of steel fixed on it and a hole to help hold it. The bottom of each mbira has a metal bar with rattles on it, made of either metal beads (like the one I have) or bottle caps, or some other kind of metal tab. It goes by many names, and I even found a YouTube video of a five-octave mbira, which is now the object of my fancy. There are different kinds of tuning based on several different reasons and construction, but it’s not based on the octave system as in traditional European instruments – it’s closer to the modes of the Medieval period. And a lot of tuning an mbira has to do with overtones as well.  I came across this video when I first bought my mbira; I really like this song and wished that I could find it to download. 

As far as popular music goes, Western and European rock music, jazz, and other pan-African genres, especially from countries that border it, like Cameroon and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, are commonly listened to in the Central African Republic. Makossa music, soukous, and Afrobeat are some of the more popular styles among the people.

Dance is seen by the community as a means of bonding and bringing the people in the community together. Dance can be done both in public and in private. The types of dances, the location, and times when people dance all depend and determine a person’s role in the community and station in their life. Likewise, some dances are for ceremonial purposes, and some are designated for entertainment. 

Up next: the food!

Thursday, May 9, 2013


One of the most prolific styles of folk art from the Central African Republic is that of rock art.  Most of the rocks used for these drawings are in sandstone, a generally soft stone.  It’s spread throughout the country, but there are large finds in the northern, western, and southern regions.  And the style varies by region as well.

In the north, the figures are anthropomorphic (a fancy word meaning having human characteristics) representations and are generally white, black, and red in color.  One characteristic of these drawings is the “pot handle arms,” where the arm is drawn like a giant curve from the shoulder to the waist, mimicking the handle on a pot.

In the south, the animals most used in their drawings are the antelope, birds, and felines.  A lot of the figures are shown throwing spears and knifes and tend to be more geometrically and angularly drawn.

I read that there is a unique site near Bwale where the anthropomorphic figures are drawn with guns.  Umm, really? So, unless these particular drawings are the missing links of various alien conspiracy stories, or these drawings are a whole lot newer than the others.

Only a few writers have emerged to the notoriety.  Pierre Makombo Bamboté was the first writer from the CAR to be published in 1962. He is an accomplished poet and novelist, and short story writer, most known for his work Princesse Mandapu. 

Étienne Goyémidé is another poet who also wrote a number of plays and novels. He wrote his first novel (Le Silence de la Forêt) about the way of life of the pygmies.  A year later, his second novel debuted, called Le Dernier Survivant de la Carivane, was written about the external and inner battles between the people and the slave traders. 

Blaise N’Djehoya is a writer, journalist, and a filmmaker who makes documentaries. He was born in Bangui to Cameroonian parents but currently resides in Paris.

Cyriaque Robert Yavoucko is most known for his novel Crépuscule et Défi: Kité na Kité (1979). There’s not a lot of biographical information out there. He either had worked or currently works at the University of Bangui.  I tried to find him on the university’s website, but the site is under construction. It’s the only university in the CAR as of 2006.

Up next:  music and dance

Tuesday, May 7, 2013


New Year’s Day. (January 1.) New Year’s is one of the few holidays that is not tied to a religious basis. Marking the official beginning of the year, it is celebrated much in the same ways as elsewhere in the world: food and drink, parties with friends and family, etc.

Boganda Day.  (March 29.)  This day is in commemoration of Barthélémy Boganda, the first leader of the Central African Republic.  He was instrumental in moving the country from a colonial state to autonomy.  However, he was killed in a plane crash before he was able to see the country into independence.

Easter Monday.  (Varies.)  The Easter holiday often starts out with a special service at the church or cathedral for the nation’s Christians and as with most places, a meal with family and friends follows. This year, the CAR along with its neighbor Democratic Republic of the Congo was one of the subjects for the new Pope’s Easter address, in hoping that the fighting between the government and rebels will subside and that agreements could be made.  Easter Monday is a public holiday where businesses and schools are closed and is generally used as a day of rest.

Labour Day.  (May 1.) Labor Day is a day in honor of the nation’s workers and is often a time when labor issues are discussed.  While the overall unemployment rate for the nation is around 8%, it’s closer to 23% in the city of Bangui alone.

Ascension.  (Varies.) Ascension is the Christian holiday that falls 40 days after Easter.  It surrounds the tradition that this was the day that Jesus ascended into heaven. Special services are held at churches and cathedrals.

Whit Monday.  (Varies.)  Also known as Pentecost, in Christianity this is the holiday that celebrates the Holy Spirit descending to visit the twelve apostles. It’s celebrated 50 days after Easter.  Some people attend special services held at the local church. The following Monday is a public holiday where many businesses and schools are closed for the day. This posed to be a somewhat difficult search, because almost every search result was trying to reference the Whitsunday Islands in Australia.  I didn’t even know these islands existed, but I certainly know now.

General Prayer Day. (June 30.) This is one holiday where there are a lot of mentions about it, but no information on how people from the CAR celebrate it. I’m going out on a limb and saying that it’s probably a day of praying for loved ones, those in need, and for the stability of the country, and any other people/issues that need to be prayed about. I’m sure there may be special church services for this day as well.

National Tree Planting Day.  (July 20.)  Similar and inspired from the Arbor Day traditions in the US, it’s a day to plant trees around communities and preserve green areas.  This is not a public holiday, so you better plant those trees on your lunch break.

Independence Day.  (August 13.)  This marks the day in 1960 when the Central African Republic declared its independence from France. It’s one of the larger holidays of the year for many of the people. Traditional foods and cultural arts displays are common on this day. One of the common things people look forward to seeing every year is the oral traditions of the Aka Pygmies, a nomadic hunter-gatherer tribe known for its music. I studied their music when I took a world music course as part of the music history courses when I was in college. I’ll get more into this when we come to music.

Assumption.  (August 15.)  Assumption is the Christian belief that this was the day Mary ascended into heaven after her death.  It’s celebrated differently around the world, but there’s not much information out there regarding how it’s celebrated in the CAR.

All Saint’s Day.  November 1. It’s a public holiday in the CAR. Traditionally more of a Catholic holiday, it’s a day to celebrate and pay homage to all of the saints, especially the ones who don’t already have feast days in their honor. Since schools and many businesses are closed for the day, many Christians may attend special church services on this day. 

Republic Day.  (December 1.)  This is the day when the French colony of Oubangui-Chari became an autonomous region and renamed itself to its current name. It’s celebrated in much the same way as Independence Day, with the national colors and flags decorating the homes and businesses and streets. Parades with military and community groups and speeches from politicians occur throughout the day as well as other festivities. Dancers and wrestlers are popular acts to perform for the public, and one of the annual events is a dugout canoe (or pirogue) race. 
Current President Bozize, who was forced to flee as rebels took over the city of Bangui about a month and a half ago. 
Christmas Day.  (December 25.)  For many people Christmas is spent celebrating it with friends and family over a nice meal. Some people may also attend a special Christmas Mass or special church service as well.  While many other African countries partake in the Santa Claus tradition introduced by the Europeans, many central African countries do not adhere to these traditions. But for many, it’s just another day simply because they are too poor to do anything special. Fighting in the country has caused such a disruption of normal services, and food is scarce in many areas, especially rural areas. There is humanitarian aid and help from NGOs, but a lot of the time the food and medical supplies are not able to be delivered to these areas where the fighting is more intense.

Up next: art and literature