Weeks of Funeral Ceremonies Planned for Houphouet-Boigny
ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast (AP) _ The drums at the palace haven’t stopped talking since Felix Houphouet- Boigny died. First, they announced his death, declaring in the stylized language of the drums that ″the great elephant has lost his teeth.″
Since then, they have been recounting his deeds. Only after he is buried will they will go silent.
Houphouet-Boigny, the longest-serving leader in Africa, will be buried Feb. 7. The site: the largest basilica in Christendom, built by the president in his home village of Yamoussoukro.
Elaborate ceremonies will lead to a funeral befitting a great African chief. Preparing for the funeral, this West African nation is trying to marry tradition and modern times with a schedule that will meet the agendas of the leading world politicians expected to attend.
Among those expected to pay their respects are French Premier Edouard Balladur and President Francois Mitterrand. Vice President Al Gore may attend for the United States.
The Basilica of Our Lady of Peace is a gold-domed monument that rises like a mirage amid palm-treed African savannah: modelled on St. Peter’s, replete with a marbled mausoleum and moat for sacred crocodiles fed on live chickens.
Pope John Paul II opened it in 1990, ignoring criticism from opposition leaders and local clerics who questioned the extravagance as the country faced its most savage economic crisis.
Houphouet-Boigny’s challengers said he had built the church, in a Muslim- dominated country of 13 million people with less than 1 million Roman Catholics, with money garnered from the cocoa earnings that made Ivory Coast prosperous in the 1970s.
Houphouet-Boigny said he paid with family wealth inherited from thousands of acres of cocoa plantations in the country he made the world’s biggest cocoa producer.
Houphouet-Boigny was never ashamed of his fortune, telling journalists he kept it in Swiss banks, ″like any sensible man would.″
In a manner befitting his grand ideas, he chose to die Dec. 7 by having his life support unit switched off. He died of prostate cancer on the 33rd anniversary of Ivory Coast’s independence from France.
A Cabinet meeting led by his hand-picked constitutional heir, President Henri Konan Bedie, has set Jan. 10-28 for people to pay homage to Houphouet- Boigny in Yamoussoukro, 120 miles north of Abidjan.
Official funeral ceremonies will be held Feb. 2-4 in Abidjan followed by a procession with a guard of honor Feb. 5.
Houphouet-Boigny’s body will be transported by road the same day to lie in state in Yamoussoukro Feb. 7.
Behind the scenes, traditions have hurried city women to villages to weave the cloth to bind his body. Girls will smear kaolin porcelain powder on their faces, necks and shoulders in signs of mourning.