A series of brutal attacks from a poweful center of traditional religious practice have left a Nyarafolo village in northern Cȏte d’Ivoire battered, burned, and traumatized.
The first attack occurred in late April, when men from the group called the Sacred Forest entered the village of Pisankaha. They burned the church and pastor’s house to the ground, as well as the homes of several other believers, and beat men, women, and children.
“When the attacks began in the evening, there was a crowd of about 45 masked men armed with machetes who began the burning and destruction; the believers fled for their lives,” wrote WorldVenture missionary Linnea Boese. “It turns out the local Sacred Forest members had called on other such groups in the area to come to help them in the attack.”
And it only became worse.
Recently, Glenn and Linnea Boese visited Pisankaha to meet with the village chief, Kulinyeri. Kulinyeri, now an 80-year-old blind man, is one of the first Nyarafolo believers from the 1960s, and claimed the Sacred Forest attack was the worst attack out of the four he’s witnessed. What’s behind the violence: the Sacred Forest society’s desire to initiate the young men from the village, who won’t participate in the traditional worship or initiation rites because of their Christianity.
“They burned, destroyed, and sacked more of the Christian houses, spoiled the food, ripped open the sacks of rice and corn to spill their contents on the ground.”
Instead of succumbing to ongoing threats and violence from the Sacred Forest, approximately 100 people continued to meet under the mango trees each Sunday near their burned church.
On Sunday, June 28, approximately 40 “masks” (men of the Sacred Forest) returned to terrorize the mango tree service, beating and chasing all believers out of the village.
“They burned, destroyed, and sacked more of the Christian houses, spoiled the food, ripped open the sacks of rice and corn to spill their contents on the ground,” said Glenn.
Members of the Sacred Forest, Pisankaha villagers, government officials, and church leaders have met to discuss the outcome of these attacks. So far, says Glenn, the Christians of the village have been told to return to Pisankaha, but housing and food remains a problem after the attacks. The government has not been responsive in alleviating these problems.
“The Sacred Forest is obviously feeling threatened by the growth of the Nyarafolo church, and the decision of believers to not participate in initiation,” said Linnea, before the second attack. The initiation occurs every seven years, in which the young male initiates enter the forest for difficult physical and spiritual rituals. Many believe these rites help maintain Nyarafolo identity in the country, where the ceremonial masks have recently been designated the emblem for the district. The Sacred Forest society (also called the Poro) have no tolerance for their people worshiping Jesus Christ alone.
“The Pisankaha believers have been traumatized and have lost much of what their loving Christian community had sent to help them restart,” said Glenn. “Most have no homes and no food. They must be wondering how on earth the Lord will work this out, with little real support from the authorities and the underlined desire of the Poro to erase the Christian presence in Pisankaha.”