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Central Africans

Central Africans

ALTERNATE NAMES: CAR
LOCATION: Central African Republic
POPULATION: 4.5 million
LANGUAGE: French and Sango (official languages), Ubangian group (Niger-Congo family of languages)
RELIGION: Islam, Roman Catholic, Protestant, indigenous religious beliefs
RELATED ARTICLES: Vol. 1: Aka

INTRODUCTION

The Central African Republic (CAR) is a landlocked country the size of Texas in central Africa. The CAR was a French colony (Ubangi-Shari) from 1899 until independence in 1960. Prior to the arrival of the French in the nineteenth century, the peoples of the CAR were divided among numerous small kingdoms and sultanates. Trade in ivory, slaves, iron, and agricultural products along the Upper Ubangi River and across the Sahara to North Africa and the Mediterranean.

While the arrival of colonial forces put an end to the slave trade, the economic system they imposed brought further hardship and misery to the Central African people. Most of what is now the CAR was divided up into “concessions,” large parcels of land turned over to private companies for exploitation. All of the natural wealth of the land—including the rights to the labor of the people—was considered the property of the various concession owners. Rubber, coffee, cotton, diamonds, and labor were among the primary products these companies sought to exploit. Forced labor and relocation along newly built roads caused many people to flee the European colonists just as they had fled Arab slave raiders engaged in the trans-Saharan trade in previous centuries. Famine and disease were the most immediate outcomes of this migration. It was only as the result of a highly publicized visit to the Ubangi-Shari by the famous French novelist André Gide in 1921 that the practice of forced labor and the concession system finally was abolished.

Under the leadership of Barthélemy Boganda, a former priest, schoolteacher, and member of the French National Assembly, Central Africans were finally able to throw off the bonds of French colonial rule in 1960. Unfortunately, Boganda never would see the fruits of his labor, for he died under mysterious circumstances in a plane crash shortly before independence from France was granted. His nephew, David Dacko, became the first president of the CAR but lost power to Jean-Bidel Bokassa after a coup d'état in 1964. Bokassa brought initial prosperity to the CAR, but he quickly became obsessed with power and grew increasingly autocratic. In 1976 he crowned himself emperor of the Central African Empire in a ceremony that cost one-third of the entire annual budget for that year. Embarrassed by the lavish lifestyle and increasingly despotic habits of Bokassa, the French intervened in 1979 and returned Dacko to power. As of 2008 the CAR had a democratically elected president, Ange Félix Patassé. However, the stability of the CAR is threatened by increasing involvement in conflicts in neighboring Chad and Sudan.

LOCATION AND HOMELAND

The CAR is home to approximately 40 different ethnic groups, most of which speak languages belonging to the Ubangian branch of the Niger-Congo language family. The primary ethnic groups of the CAR are Banda, Gbaya, Ngbaka, Ngbandi, and Zande. A number of smaller Bantu-speaking groups are found along the southern border of the CAR, and a handful of Sahelian groups are found along the northern border. With a population of just 4.5 million in an area of 240,535 sq mi, the CAR is one of the most sparsely populated countries in the world. From east to west, the CAR measures 900 miles; from north to south it varies from 260 to 475 miles. The CAR shares its 2,700-mile border with five countries: the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Republic of Congo to the south, the Sudan to the northeast, Chad to the north, and Cameroon to the west. The CAR was called Ubangi-Shari in the colonial period since its landmass falls primarily in the watershed of these two rivers.

In terms of geography, the CAR spans all three of Africa's major types of landscape. To the extreme south is the dense equatorial tropical rain forest, which is home to the CAR's earliest inhabitants, the pygmies. The middle portion of the country, where the bulk of the population lives, is woodland savanna. In the northern part of the country the savanna gives way to the Sahel, a semidesert band that separates the Sahara desert from the grasslands. The terrain of the CAR consists primarily of gentle rolling hills with a few small mountains in the northwest and the northeast. In the middle portion of the country, the savanna is occasionally broken up by rocky outcroppings called kagas. As in the rest of the region, there are two seasons: dry and rainy. In the rain forest band, the rainy season lasts nine months, from March until December, tapering off to just three to four months of rain in the northern Sahel region.

LANGUAGE

The 40 ethnic groups of the CAR are unified by the national lingua franca, Sango. This language is a variety of Ngbandi, which was used along the Ubangi river and into the interior for trading purposes before French colonization. Sango was then spread throughout the colony by the soldiers and workers employed by the colonial government. These hired forces were recruited from the coastal regions of Africa and themselves spoke a variety of African languages. Upon arrival in Ubangi-Shari they adopted Sango, both for communicating with the local population and for speaking among themselves. By the time Protestant missionaries arrived in the colony in the 1920s, Sango was already so widely spoken that Protestant and later Christian missionaries began using it in their work. The association between Christianity and the use of Sango has strongly contributed to its ongoing spread. Today 98% of the population of the CAR speaks Sango at least as a second language. In Bangui, the capital, and other major cities, young people who are not ethnically Sango increasingly learn Sango as their first language.

Another important language spoken in the CAR is French, which is the official language along with Sango. While Sango is the language that most Central Africans speak on a daily basis, French is the language of government and education. Many Central Africans are trilingual: They speak their ethnic language with other members of their ethnic group, especially within the family; they speak Sango in church, the marketplace, and whenever they meet someone from a different ethnic group; and they speak French at school, when dealing with the government, or when speaking to foreigners.

FOLKLORE

Since each ethnic group has its own language, each also has its own oral tradition, including mythical heroes and storytelling formulas. With the emergence of national identity and culture associated with the common national language, Sango, there has emerged a body of folklore known to Central Africans from all ethnicities. The central figure in this national folklore is Tere, a clever and witty man of supernatural powers who outsmarts his opponents with tricks and guile. Th ough originally a figure from Banda mythology, Tere has become such a central figure in Central African oral tradition that in Sango his name is now synonymous with the act of storytelling itself.

Oral tradition plays a very important role in the education of children in the CAR, for it is through these stories that they learn important lessons about the origins of the natural world, morality, traditional healing, and hunting. In days gone by, such stories would be told by the older generation to the younger while sitting around a fire in the evening. Today this tradition continues, with these stories being told over the radio and on television. The storyteller frequently incorporates a song into his story, which the entire audience will sing along with him. The refrain of these songs is frequently the moral of the story. The catchy tune and clever lyrics help the listener remember the main point of the lesson.

RELIGION

Most Central Africans are Christian, with 35% of the population being Protestant and 18% being Catholic. The remainder are Muslim or practice indigenous religions. In addition, many Central Africans incorporate indigenous practices of ancestor worship, or animism alongside Christianity or Islam. In local religious systems, each person is assigned a totem, which is an animal spirit that is passed on from generation to generation. Some totems are sacred to an entire ethnic group, while others are specific to individuals. In both cases, one may never eat the animal associated with one's totem. If possible, when a person is dying, he or she will pass on his or her totem to a young child, usually a son or grandson. In this way some Central Africans may end up with several totems that they believe give them special insights, characteristics, and protection.

Traditional priests, or witch doctors, are called nganga. The priest is in communication with the spirits of the ancestors who indicate to him their pleasure and displeasure. If a Central African has a problem, for example a series of bad harvests or poor luck in hunting, he or she may go to the nganga if it is suspected that displeased spirits are at the root of the problem. The nganga serves as a medium to the spirits and frequently will order a ritual sacrifice (usually a chicken) to placate them. He will bless the fishing nets and hunting spears and may order additional offerings, such as eggs and white chickens, to be left in the sacred spot of the ancestors. These sacred spots usually include an altar on which a figurine of the spirit has been placed.

MAJOR HOLIDAYS

Independence Day, celebrated December 1 and known locally as Premier Décembre, is the major important holiday in the CAR. It honors the day that Barthelemy Boganda declared the independence of the country and is celebrated with parades and much official pomp and circumstance. In many respects this is a day of remembrance of Boganda himself, who is rightfully considered to be the father of the CAR nation. On this day Central Africans show their patriotism and respect by dressing in their finest attire and participating in the activities. School-children and social organizations of every type assemble to march before local and national dignitaries. Afterwards they feast on roast goat, gazelle, or pork, which few Central Africans can afford to eat on a daily basis. The adults may drink beer or wine, while the children are given the rare treat of soda.

RITES OF PASSAGE

The most important rite of passage among Central Africans is circumcision, which serves as a symbol of initiation to both adulthood and the various ethnic groups. Many ethnic groups, particularly those in the northern part of the CAR, practice circumcision on both boys and girls just as they are entering puberty, around the age of 13. Historically in rural areas, circumcision takes place over a three-month period when groups of up to 30 boys or girls are taken from the village to live in a secret camp in the forest or savanna. Here they are given intensive training and education in the spiritual beliefs and practices of their ethnic group. They also are taught about sexual reproduction and the responsibilities they will bear as full-fledged members of society. Young women are instructed to be faithful and obedient to their husbands and young men are instructed to provide for their wives and children. When the initiation period is over, they are marched back into the village where they are greeted with much celebration, dance, and fanfare. The newest members of society are given presents of money and clothing, and special feasts are held in their honor. Once they have completed this rite of passage, they have the right to take a spouse.

With urbanization, male circumcision increasingly takes place in a hospital and the practice of female circumcision is discouraged by the government. Even if circumcision does not actually take place, the removal from society for educational purposes and initiation still takes place, though the period increasingly is only a matter of a few weeks rather than months. Many young people, particularly in the larger urban areas, no longer speak the language of their ethnicity and it is only during circumcision, when they are sent to their ancestral village, that they learn something of their ethnic language and customs.

Honoring the deceased also plays a very important role in Central African society, for it symbolizes the transition from the living to the spiritual world, when a living person passes on to become a venerated ancestor. Depending on the social status of the deceased, periods of mourning may last anywhere from a few days to years. In the first few hours after the death of a close relative, male family members are expected to display their grief by shaving their hair off, and women are expected to abstain from any type of personal grooming and adornment. An all night vigil around the corpse will be held the first night, with much singing and dancing to help coax the spirit into the other world. The body is promptly buried at sunrise the next day, with the head pointing north for men and south for women. Depending on the wealth and status of the deceased, the vigil may continue for up to two weeks. During the mourning period the immediate family maintains proper decorum by refusing to wear brightly colored clothing and to participate in any pleasureful activities. At the end of the mourning period, there is a celebration with dancing, good food, and much gaiety. The day after this celebration the family will symbolize the return to normal life by putting on a new set of clothing.

INTERPERSONAL RELATIONS

Greeting and leave-taking are very important in Central African society because they are considered not just acts of politeness but also indicators of respect. Central Africans begin each day by greeting the members of their family with a handshake and an inquiry into how they slept. Whenever a new person enters a group of people, the newcomer is expected to first greet the most important person (e.g., oldest person, honored guest, or chief, etc.) with a handshake and then greet each and every person assembled in the same way. Failure to do so would be construed as a great insult. When leaving a group, a second handshake is required of each person. Among close friends, particularly men, a sign of intimacy and friendship is the following of the handshake with a snap of the fingers, produced jointly by both parties. Women and men both shake hands, but increasingly women are adopting the French practice of kissing on both cheeks.

Central Africans have many hand gestures that mean very specific things. For example, the gesture for calling someone over is very similar to a wave good-bye in the West and is done by outstretching the hand palm toward the person and clasping the hand. Also, when indicating the height of a person, the hand is held vertically at the level of the face, for animals the palm is held horizontally to indicate the top of the head. To refer to a person using the gesture of an animal would be construed as a great insult.

Visiting friends and family play a prominent role in Central African society, with Sunday afternoons and holidays being given over to this practice. On these days many Central Africans will put on their finest clothing and set out to go calling on friends either at home or in public places. Most visits to homes are spontaneous and unannounced, but when a visitor arrives—even a stranger— at the very least a chair in the shade and a drink of cool water is offered. Frequently, a small meal will be offered, which the host and guest will eat together. Sharing food, even if it is just a few boiled peanuts, is an important aspect of Central African culture because it symbolizes the strong emphasis placed on togetherness and community. Even if one is not hungry, in Central African society it is looked down upon to refuse a meal when offered. Instead, one should eat at least a few bites out of politeness.

LIVING CONDITIONS

The CAR is one of the poorest countries in sub-Saharan Africa and, as a result, it is plagued with a low standard of living and high death rate from disease and malnutrition. Life is particularly difficult for children who are the most vulnerable to disease and parasites. Most Central Africans live in mud-brick huts with grass roofs and without running water and electricity. While such homes are in general clean and comfortable, they offer little protection from malaria-carrying mosquitoes. In addition, most children go barefoot and are thus susceptible to other parasites that are spread through the waste of animals, particularly pigs. In large villages, each home or group of homes has a latrine and children are instructed to use it, which helps ensure that the drinking supply will not be contaminated. All too often, however, these latrines are built too close to the well or stream that supplies the drinking water.

Transportation is a major problem in the CAR. There are few paved roads, most of which are in poor condition. Few Central Africans own cars and most must depend on trafiques, or bush taxis, to get from one place to another. These bush taxis are almost always filled well beyond the designed capacity of the vehicle. The roof of the bus or van is piled high with passengers' luggage and goods. On buses heading toward the cities are sacks of food and live goats and chickens; on buses heading out of the city and toward the countryside are new pots and pans and other consumer goods such as soap and cloth. During the rainy season, when many roads turn to mud, it can take weeks to get from one end of the country to the other. All passengers must be prepared to sleep on the ground wherever the bus stops for the night or breaks down.

FAMILY LIFE

Though there are not normally formal marriage ceremonies, certain social customs are strictly followed to recognize new unions. Before a man and a woman can live together as husband and wife, the family of the man must pay a bride-price to the family of the bride. This payment is viewed as a form of marriage license or as a token of sincerity. The exact sum and terms of payment are worked out between the families of the two parties and may range anywhere from a few goats and chickens to large sums of money. If the marriage fails due to infertility or infidelity of the woman, the family of the man can demand a return of the money. No marriage is official until a child has been born.

Once a couple starts to produce children, frequently a younger sister or cousin of the wife will come and live with them to help relieve the mother's burden. The young assistant is in many respects an apprentice, learning how to keep house and to care for babies and children. The size of the household also may be further augmented by the temporary adoption of a sibling's children, either so that these children may attend better schools or so that their parents can spend more time working to make a living. It is rare to find a child being raised alone or with just one sibling. The more typical scenario is for five or six children of varying degrees of blood relatedness being raised as brothers and sisters.

CLOTHING

Traditional Central African cloth is made out of the bark of a certain tree that grows in the rain forest and that becomes soft and pliable when beaten. In the precolonial period, most clothing consisted of a loincloth made out of this barkcloth or of a skirt made from braided raffia, which comes from a type of palm tree. Colonization and trade with Europe brought about the introduction of cotton cloth, which is frequently dyed in bright and colorful patterns. Most women today wear such cloth in a form of dress known as pagne, which is tied about the waste like a skirt and worn together with a matching blouse made of the same material. Clothing is a potent symbol of wealth, and genuine European prints from the United Kingdom and the Netherlands are the most sought after.

For casual wear, men may also wear matching shirt and pants made from colorful printed cloth, but for important occasions they wear European-style clothing. Central African men never would wear shorts in public, because they are the attire of children and reminiscent of the clothing of the European colonists. Increasingly, men and women alike are adopting the West African custom of wearing outfits known as shada made of colorful batik cloth that has a design in the weave. Outfits made out of this cloth are embellished with elaborate embroidery and may cost hundreds of dollars apiece. Less fortunate Central Africans wear secondhand European and American clothing bought for a few cents apiece at local markets.

FOOD

The staple food of the Central African diet is cassava, which is a starchy root that originated in Brazil and was introduced in Africa by the Portuguese. Unlike millet, the traditional Central African staple, cassava is a hardy plant that can be grown easily in a variety of climates and even in very poor soil. To prepare the cassava for consumption, it first must be soaked in water for three days to leach out the traces of cyanide that occurs naturally in the plant. After soaking, the roots are peeled and broken into pieces to be dried in the sun. Just before eating, the dried cassava is ground into a fine flour that is used to make the mainstay of Central African cuisine called gozo. This is a firm paste made by adding the cassava flour to boiling water.

Most Central African meals consist of gozo served with a sauce made with meat, fish, and/or vegetables. One favorite everyday dish, called ngunja, is made with the dark green leaves of the cassava plant. Most sauces, including ngunja, are thickened with peanut butter, which gives them added protein and flavor. Onions, garlic, tomatoes, and mushrooms are also basic elements of Central African cuisine and are found in many national dishes. On special occasions, goat and chicken are the dishes of choice. In rural areas many people continue to enjoy wild game such as snake, monkey, and elephant.

The communal aspect of eating is reinforced by the fact that everyone eats with their fingers from a central common dish. Men and women, however, do not eat together unless they are related and in private. Women do all the cooking and they serve the food. A Central African meal consists of one bowl of sauce accompanied by one ball of gozo, both of which are served covered with intricately decorated gourd shells to keep them warm. Before eating, everyone washes their hands in a basin that is passed from person to person and waits for the oldest person or honored guest to begin. Also, no one may take a piece of meat until this person has done so.

Depending on the size of the household and their financial resources, usually only one meal is cooked per day and served at the noon hour. In the evening and for breakfast the next day, leftovers are eaten. The diet is supplemented with fresh fruit such as oranges, bananas, pineapples, guava, mangoes, and avocadoes, which grow in abundance in the CAR. French-style bread is available in the larger towns and cities where it is eaten for breakfast or in place of gozo with a meal. The CAR produces coffee, which Central Africans of all ages drink sweetened with ample quantities of sugar and softened with condensed or powdered milk.

EDUCATION

Most Central Africans born since independence in 1960 have attended at least some primary school, but very few have received further education. Only one eighth of all children go on to high school and of these only 1 in 10 will actually finish. To earn a high school diploma, students must take an exam called a baccalaureate which very few people are able to pass. All those who pass, and who have the money, are then able to go on to the one university in the country, the Université de Bangui. At all levels, parents are expected to pay a fee for the education of their children. Failure to pay is one of the major reasons why many children leave school at a young age.

In government-sponsored schools, the official language is French and, as a result, most young people today have learned at least a small amount of French. Typically, children begin their education in Sango and gradually make the transition to French so that by the time they reach high school, classes are conducted entirely in French. The ability to read and write in French is directly linked to one's educational level. Because the orthographic system of Sango is closely related to that of French, young people who learn to read and write in French, by virtue of being native speakers of Sango, know how to read and write in this language as well. Older people who never have attended school are often able to at least read Sango, thanks to the many years of literacy projects conducted by the various Christian missionary societies. Recently, the CAR government has begun a secular literacy program aimed at farmers in rural areas.

CULTURAL HERITAGE

The CAR has a rich tradition in music and dance, which is expressed as part of the celebration of every major holiday and event. In traditional society, music and dance were believed to facilitate communication with the spiritual world and played an important role in the belief system of the people. The primary musical instrument is the conga drum, which is made by stretching a piece of wet leather over a hollowed-out length of log. While these drums come in all shapes and sizes, some stand up to a yard tall and can be heard several miles away. In the early and pre-colonial period, a special type of drum called a linga was used for communicating between villages in a specially devised code. Xylophones made with wood and gourds are another common musical instrument. In traditional society, specific songs and dances were associated with different events and would only be performed at this time. For example, certain songs are performed only at funerals and others only during circumcision.

Though music and dance have changed considerably with modernization and exposure to Western culture, they retain great significance in modern Central African society. Music and dance have been incorporated into Christian worship, where services are often punctuated with lively singing and elaborately choreographed dance. Conga drums and xylo-phones are still popular in rural areas, but today electric guitars, keyboards, and snare drums are increasingly common in urban areas. Popular recorded music sung in Sango is heard all over the country and is very pervasive. In buses, taxis, restaurants, and bars, either the radio or a cassette player is almost always providing background music. Increasingly, African American music such as rap, reggae, and hip hop are also becoming popular.

WORK

There is, for all intents and purposes, no manufacturing in the CAR. At one time in the 1970s, Central Africans produced their own cloth, shoes, beer, and soap, and even assembled cars. Today only the soap factory and one of the two breweries remain in operation. Timber and diamonds are the most important industries in the CAR, generating between them 75% of the CAR's export earnings. Unfortunately, these industries employ few people. Most Central Africans are subsistence farmers, growing most of the food they consume and just a bit more that they sell to get money to buy the things they cannot grow, such as soap and cloth. A limited number grow cash crops such as coffee or cotton, but demand for these exports on the world market has been falling for the past several years as competition from other parts of the world has increased.

SPORTS

Central Africans are avid sports enthusiasts, with soccer and basketball among their greatest passions. Athletic clubs in virtually every city and town sponsor soccer teams that compete for regional and national championships. On Saturdays throughout the CAR, makeshift soccer stadiums become a major focus of social life as fans of all ages come together to watch back-to-back matches. Here young men come to court young women, old men come to gather and chat, and children come to frolic on the sidelines. The mayor of the town or chief of the village is usually in attendance, as are all the other local dignitaries. The presence of vendors selling grilled meat, peanuts, and bananas add a festive air to the occasion. Particularly good soccer players enjoy considerable status and prestige in their hometowns, especially if they go on to play in the national soccer league. Basketball was introduced in the 1970s by American Peace Corps workers, who built courts at high schools throughout the country. There is a national basketball training center in Bangui, and in 1988 the CAR national team astounded the continent by winning the African championship.

ENTERTAINMENT AND RECREATION

In Bangui, the capital, there is locally produced television in Sango and French. These shows are very popular and in the evening those rare individuals who have both electricity and a television will place the set outside so that all the neighbors can watch. It is not unusual to find 40 or 50 people gathered around a television in the evening watching storytellers, the local news, or an old French movie. In rural areas, where there generally is neither electricity nor television, some people will improvise with generators and video recorders. Usually, such events are by paid admission only and feature American action films or Chinese karate films. There is only one national radio station in the CAR, Radio Centrafrique, which broadcasts news, information, stories, and music. Radio is a major source of entertainment for those fortunate enough to have shortwave radios and batteries to operate them.

One of the most popular activities for Central Africans of all ages is dancing. In even the smallest towns there is usually at least one gathering place with a cemented dance floor and a cassette player. In the evening such places are popular with young adults who come to listen to the latest music from Bangui and the Democratic Republic of the Congo and to dance. In villages and cities of all sizes, there are frequent occasions when drumming and dancing take place. Most notably, funerals and circumcision celebrations typically involve several days of singing and dancing.

FOLK ART, CRAFTS, AND HOBBIES

Traditional art in the CAR takes a variety of forms including ebony carvings, pottery, weaving, and hair braiding. In the southern part of the country, near the rain forest, skilled artisans produce a host of ebony products that are popular with Central Africans and tourists alike. Statuettes, figurines, and animal carvings are the most common, though they also produce a number of household items such as combs, plates, and pestles. In the past, each ethnic group produced distinctive pottery that could be identified by the patterns and designs found on the outside. Today, however, only a few ethnic groups continue this tradition because most people have switched to aluminum and steel pots which are more durable and last longer. Traditionally, however, all cooking was done in clay earthenware pots that also were used for storing water, grain, or oil.

In the savanna region of the CAR, where the grass can grow 12 feet high and a variety of reeds may be found, the weaving of mats and baskets is a common activity. By dyeing the grasses and reeds different colors, elaborate patterns may be woven into the mats and baskets, giving them greater aesthetic appeal and increasing their value.

Hair braiding and tying is one of the principal social activities of women as well as a major outlet for their artistic talents. Some hair designs are so complex and intricate that they may take up to eight hours to complete. Central Africans are best known for the “sputnik” design, which involves winding strands of hair very tightly with string so that they stand straight out in all directions.

SOCIAL PROBLEMS

The post-colonial history of the CAR, like so many African countries, has been characterized by autocratic rule and restriction of basic civil liberties. The first president, David Dacko, was overthrown by his cousin, Jean-Bidel Bokassa, in a coup d'état. Bokassa became infamous for crowning himself emperor and rumors that he killed children. He fashioned himself to be a modern-day Napoleon who had absolute power—including life and death—over his subjects. He was driven from power in 1979, and Dacko was brought back only to be deposed once again in another coup, this time by André Kolingba. Kolingba ruled the CAR with a tight grip until 1993, when the first democratic elections brought Ange Félix Patassé to power. Patassé was Bokassa's prime minister and has proven himself to share many of his former boss's autocratic tendencies. Successive Central African governments have paid lip service to human and civil rights, at the behest of Western donors, but have done very little to ensure that these rights are guaranteed.

Corruption and AIDS are the biggest social problems facing the CAR today. In a country where governmental favors are routinely bought and sold and only the ethnic group associated with the president can succeed in society, it is no wonder that development of the country has been so slow in coming. AIDS is having the effect of wiping out a significant portion of the generation aged 20–40, which is putting a strain on older people who are being forced to care for children orphaned by this tragedy. Further exacerbating this problem is ongoing urbanization and rapid population growth, both of which contribute to declining living standards.

GENDER ISSUES

Intense poverty has made life difficult for many Central African women. Maternal mortality rates are among the highest in the world and the average life expectancy for women is only 44 years. Nonetheless, women are highly valued in Central African society, particularly for their work as mothers. Mother's Day has grown into a celebration of women in general and it serves to recognize the labor and sacrifice that all women make in CAR society. On this day men do all the cooking and cleaning, while the women sit in the shade and are served by men. Some men add humor and a festive touch to the occasion by wearing women's clothing as they go to the market and carry out other duties normally assumed by women. Often, a few days before the celebration, a son will buy his mother a chicken and some beer, which will assure her that she is loved and appreciated. On Mother's Day, the son will prepare the chicken himself and serve it to his mother.

REFERENCES

Bennafla, Karine. Le commerce frontalier en Afrique centrale: acteurs, espaces, pratiques. Paris: Karthala, 2003.

Carpenter, Allan, and Janice Baker. Enchantment of Africa: Central African Republic. Chicago: Children's Press, 1977.

Donnet, Nadine, Jean-François Le Borgne, and Jean-Luc Pier-may. Géographie: La République Centrafricaine, Collection André Journaux. Paris: Hatier, 1967.

Giles-Vernick, Tamara. Cutting the Vines of the Past: Environmental Histories of the Central African Rainforests. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2002.

Grellet, Gérard, Monique Mainguet, and Pierre Soumille. La République Centrafricaine, Que Sais-Je? Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1982.

O'Toole, Th omas. The Central African Republic: The Continent's Hidden Heart. Edited by L. Bowman, Profiles: Nations of Contemporary Africa. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1986.

Sammy, Pierre. Empire Centrafricaine: Géographie. Paris: Hatier, 1977.

Strong, Polly. African Tales: Folklore of the Central African Republic. Mogadore, OH: Telcraft, 1992.

Vennetier, Pierre et al. Atlas de la République Centrafricaine, Les Atlas Jeune Afrique. Paris: Éditions Jeune Afrique, 1984.

Woodfork, Jacqueline. Culture and Customs of the Central African Republic. New York: Greenwood Press, 2005.

—revised by C. Breedlove

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  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.