Did you know that March 8 is International Women’s Day? I did not, until I came to Burkina Faso. Here it is a national holiday, with no school and with celebrations all over the country. Last year our local festivities were canceled because of the civil unrest you may have heard about in the news. This year I did get to go to see what happens at a Women’s Day celebration.
Pagnes for the event
First I should explain that there is a custom here for people here who want to show that they are “together” at a big event to wear clothes made from the same material. As I have mentioned, you buy cloth in 2 yard lengths of 45 inch material referred to as a pagne. You use the same word to talk about the pattern on the material. For example, here is a picture I took at a funeral I attended where many of the members of the deceased’s family wore clothes made from the same material—all those folks standing together wearing clothes made from the same pagne. I should mention that the woman actually died in January 2010 and the funeral was held in February 2012. That is a normal length of time between the internment and the funeral mass with the dedication of the tomb, which you see here.Every year there is a theme for Women’s Day. In 2010 it was literacy for women who did not learn to read in school. There are classes here during the dry season where people can learn to read in their local language. People in my region learn to read Moore, and people in other parts of the country are taught to read Djula, Lobi, or one of the many other languages. It is easier to learn to read a language you already know than to learn a new language (French) and how to read at the same time. Here is the pagne for 2010. It was intended to promote literacy training for women. The slogan around the circle would translate “women’s literacy and informal education.”
Last year the theme was maternal health and lowering the maternal mortality rate. Here is the pagne, and the slogan means “give life without dying.”
Here is this year’s pagne, which has the same theme, but has a different design for the pagne.
I had an outfit (skirt and blouse) made from the pagne by my neighbor Martine, Prosper’s wife. She is a seamstress and I will be telling you more about dressmaking here in another blog.
About the Celebration
We arrived about 9:00 AM because that was supposed to be the time the event would start. After living here for nearly two years I was not surprised that they were not ready to start then. I was ushered to a metal chair in a makeshift reviewing area that had shade provided by black plastic drop clothes tied to branches put into holes dug in the ground. I was happy for the shade as the day got hotter. In the front row was someone’s living room furniture, to provide nicer seating for the dignitaries.
About 9:30 the man who ran the sound system got it set up and a group of girls in school uniforms who were going to march in the event arrived. The sound man played typical African dance music, and people hung around the area, but it was clear things were not about to start. At 10:00 the music changed to marching music and I thought the program would start soon. Silly me! After about 10 minutes the music changed back to the dance music. At 11:00 there was a beeping of horns and a motorcade of several cars and a minibus arrived, lead by 15 or 20 motor cycles. At the sound of the horns, people gathered around the area where things would be happening. A group of people got out of the vehicles and walked to the comfortable seating area. Above, you see them settled in their places. You can see that most of the women are in the pagne, but the man in gold, the mayor of the nearest big town, was not.
The Woman's Day Program
With the important people in place, things finally got underway. The master of ceremonies was wearing a shirt of this year's pagne. He greeted everyone in French and explained the program for the day, and then repeated everything in Moore so most folks could understand. They used an umbrella to provide shade for the speakers.
After the welcome and announcement of the program, the parade got underway. There were a couple of groups of young girls, students at the elementary schools. They appeared to have decided to wear pagne skirts made from hand woven traditional cloth and tops made from the red, white, and blue material that is the Burkina Faso Independence Day pagne.
Next came the high school girls wearing their school uniform skirts and blue t-shirts that I think had the name of the school on them.
After them came the women’s groups. Some of the women carried the gifts to present to the dignitaries. Here they are making the presentation, with other members of their group in the background.
This was followed by several speeches. This is the Imam of the town where the celebration was held, giving an opening prayer. Notice the two young women with the blue skirts (also called pagnes).
This is the president of the women’s association, saying her bit. Notice the woman in green holding the recording device in front of them as they were talking. She is one of the broadcasters from my local radio station and I am sure the speeches will be rebroadcast so everyone who was not there can listen to them.
There were several other speakers, and as each speaker rose to talk, two young women dressed in the traditional woven pagnes marched out to the center of the space with them. This thing of having folks, usually beautiful young women, escort the important people is very traditional here. Getting to be an escort is a great honor. To share the responsibility, there were two pairs of women who took turns doing the escorting. Here is the other pair, with the MC.
All four wore the same very fancy hair dos. I took a picture of their hair because I was impressed with how it was fixed.
The big event was a skit illustrating the theme of the year. It was all in Moore, but I could guess what most of it was about from the action. It featured a woman who went to the maternity center for a pre natal checkup. The midwife asked her to bring her husband for a consultation, but he refused to go and told her she could not go there again. When she gave birth at home she had a problem and her mother-in-law helped her get to the maternity center. The problem was too serious for the midwife to handle and they called for an ambulance to take the woman to a hospital. It was too late, and she died. The moral of the story was quite clear.
After a few more speeches I was invited to join the other people who had been seated on chairs and in the shade to have lunch at a nearby school. I thought I would not know anyone there, but I met the secretary at the Lycée, and sat with her. I also saw the principal of the school, the chief of a nearby village with whom I worked to get the village pump repaired, whom you can see below.
I also saw the assistant chief of police,(on the left in the picture) who came to me last year for information on farming and whom I was able to help with some information and tree seeds from Peace Corps. The other officer is the head of the Military Police in my town, who lets me leave my bicycle at the police station near the bus stop when I am traveling to a place where I do not want to have it with me.
There was to be a soccer match in the afternoon, but I decided I had seen the important event for Women’s Day and headed home. I understand that the national celebration was on TV and folks could see the big event from home, if they happened to have a TV set.