Presentation: J. Baya/T. Bearth, Northern Tura research module (Western Ivory Coast)
Aims of the overall project
LAGSUS research is articulated around the problematic of "Language, gender and development" within the framework of an interdisciplinary research methodology, to be elaborated as part of the research itself. It has been conducted in Indonesia, Ivory Coast, Namibia and Uganda following sponsorship of the project by the Volkswagen Foundation as the outcome of a call for research proposals concerning “Key issues in the human sciences” (see LAGSUS world map). The LAGSUS project brings together the research expertise of linguistic, sociological and agronomic specializations of the Universities of Kassel, Frankfurt, Munster and Zurich along with their counterparts in the host countries. In Ivory Coast, the project was affiliated with the Swiss Center of Scientific Research (CSRS).
Project description; Summary of results; Final report.
LAGSUS research activities in Ivory Coast
In Ivory Coast the LAGSUS project focuses on the Tura ethnic and linguistic community. It is represented in two places:
- the rural Tura country (see map) (North Tura, Biankouma district, and South-west Tura, sub-district of Gbonné, 600 kilometres from Abidjan, the seaside economic capital of Ivory Coast)
- the urban diaspora in the Abidjan region.
The Ivorian component of the research has been conducted jointly by the researchers T. Bearth, D. Fan, L. Kouadio née Vé and J. Baya, together with their research associates. Research amongst urban Tura has been concerned mainly with the topic of gender in the context of an association of Tura women. In the crisis situation due to the Ivorian civil war, gender has been of particular interest in the rural area, where it has been the focus of a collective publication (see Abstract).
Research among the rural Tura has focused on two topics, which are of both theoretical and practical interest:
These topics have been studied from two complementary angles, each of which involves the decisive participation of local actors:
- A type of informal debate called gbáà: this consists of an exchange between the researcher and local people that allows them to express their point of view in a way that is free of the traditional constraints which would normally give priority of floor allocation to elders.
- Action research (Baya, in press-e): This is where innovatory activity and research activity come together in a local context. A new space for communication opens up where knowledge sharing between the researcher and local actors becomes a unique opportunity for the empowerment of local people, for local backup on research hypotheses and, ultimately, for the facilitation of sustainable development. From the research angle, participation in situated processes of acquisition, monitoring and follow-up of innovatory activities constitutes a significant source of data of great scientific interest.
Results in the rural Tura area (Ivory Coast)
Communicative sustainability: the case of the Mont Sangbe National Park
Research into communicative sustainability on the question of the Mont Sangbe Park has shown that, due to use of the local language, messages about the purpose and benefits of the park have survived the crisis and that its conservation is today a solidly established concern of the Intervillage Development Committee (CODIV) and the local population at large.
Before the crisis in Ivory Coast erupted in 2002 the local population had adopted Mont Sangbe not only by appointing delegates to the Intervillage Committees entrusted with its surveillance, but also, when referring to the park in their daily discourse, by designating it as common property through the use of such terms as "our forest", "our property" and "our thing". In the midst of the crisis, when it might have been thought that people would have lost interest, inquiries led by LAGSUS showed that, to the contrary, there had been a collective consciousness-raising in its favor, which could be traced back to the use of the local language as the basic medium for discussions on the topic in introducing it to the population.
Indicators of this continuing positive attitude towards the park are:
- the unanimous condemnation of its destruction, as expressed in the issuing of a pledge demanding the immediate return of its administration;
- the recommencement of conservation activities despite the still not fully solved crisis;
- the maintenance of mutual contact by holding meetings of the Intervillage Development Committee;
- occasional non-violent interventions intended to bring poaching under control.
More on this topic see Baya 2008a. The action-research approach to development, in the midst of a national crisis, has shown how the Tura language, in its spoken and its written form, has become a work-tool for local people for the purposes of innovation:
- Documents written in the local language can enhance local thinking and local understanding of development related innovations: local actors insist on how much more easily and thoroughly technical data sheets on almond cultivation, cassava cultivation and chicken-raising can be assimilated when they are written in the local language.
- In the same way the almond cultivators of the villages of Yêngbêyalé (North Tura) and Gouréné (SW Tura) have taken the initiative of proceeding to planting after comparing their own analysis of climate and the growth of plants to the instructions on data sheets written in their language. Thus the local language can facilitate the convergence of local and expert knowledge.
- The Tura language becomes the means for talking about innovation and interpreting it in terms of one’s own world-view, as when the almond tree is referred to by the phrase sòwáà gwέέ (sofa groundnut) or as kòòkìàng (river pebble).
- It is a means of enhancing a spirit of creativity, planning and management on the part of local actors, men and women alike. Motivated by a sense of entrepreneurship, women's associations expressed the desire to be taught in Tura a method of accountancy adapted to their needs in order to be able to better manage their activities.
Finally, research under the aegis of LAGSUS has been concerned with local communicative strategies, such as the Konon, which are indispensable for passing on the message of development. Research into (the) Konon allows us to see that:
- It is a factor in the reconstitution of the social fabric and in the rehabilitation of the role of clans because of the way the right to speak is allotted in an orderly manner thus repositioning each social stratum with regard to its day to day functioning in local affairs.
- In this tradition, turn-taking sequences are being regulated in a way that protects the communicative bond between participants in dialogue, while at the same guaranteeing individual speaking rights.
- Research into the Konon protocol has fed back into the discovery of cultural values associated with the Tura language: thus the community of Ditomba, where part of this research was done (Photo 1 below), has asked for the history of their village to be documented.
New directions in LAGSUS research and action
The LAGSUS project is now adopting a broader vision for its future activities. One option may be for it to become a larger scale NGO. As part of this new initiative the following objectives are envisaged:
- Scientific research in a similar framework on the theme of "language, multilingualism and development".
- Environmental protection on the basis of "sustainable development" and in partnership with local structures and organizations such as those involved in the management of the Mont Sangbe Park.
- Participation in the struggle against poverty by monitoring and advisory support for local structures and organizations.
- Support for literacy training and the emancipation of rural women by means of writing and training in the management of their innovatory activities such as accounting procedures.
- A projected Rural University for the promotion and the sustainability of research activity and development in a rural setting.
 Sofa : soldier of Samory’s army which, resisting the colonial conquest, invaded the Tura country in 1898 before being finally defeated.