Michael Jackson, during the Jackson 5 era. Undated photo, published June 26, 2009.

Fifteen years after his death, Michael Jackson is back in the Côte d’Ivoire… or almost. Wang Yonghua, aka “Wang Jackson,” a Chinese impersonator of the American superstar, landed in Abidjan on Friday, June 21. After being greeted on Saturday by Eugène Aka Aouélé, the president of the Sud-Comoé regional council, he was set to follow in the footsteps of the “King of Pop” to Krindjabo, in the department of Aboisso, south-east of the country, where he was expected on Tuesday for the celebration of the 15th anniversary of his death.

Jackson’s love affair with the Côte d’Ivoire dates back to 1992. At the height of his career, the singer decided to discover his African origins and took a DNA test. It revealed that he came from the kingdom of Sanwi, where slaves were sold and deported during French colonization, close to the border with present-day Ghana.

In February of the same year, Jackson traveled to Krindjabo, the kingdom’s capital, where the traditional authorities recognized him as the heir to the royal family and crowned him Prince Amalaman Anoh, in reference to Sanwi’s first king. The ceremony was widely covered by the media, granting the small kingdom of Sanwi an unexpected international notoriety.

Symbolic funerals and sacred tomb

But this fame proved to be just as short-lived. It wasn’t until Jackson’s death in 2009 that the village of Krindjabo once again welcomed the cameras of the international press. The King of Sanwi, Amon N’Douffou V, demanded that the superstar’s body be buried on his land as is tradition. The American embassy refused, but the village organized a symbolic funeral for “the country’s child.”

In keeping with his princely stature, his tomb was declared sacred and its location kept secret. Fans of memorial tourism, particularly Afro-descendant Americans traveling to the Sanwi kingdom to discover locations historically marked by slavery, were therefore unable to pay their respects to the former “King of Pop.”

Reverend Pastor Marcel Kouamenan, head of the Jackson Legacy charitable foundation, intends to fix this by erecting a memorial in Krindjabo featuring a six-meter-high statue of the singer. The foundation stone was due to be laid on June 25 in the presence of a delegation led by Marcel Kouamenan and Wang Jackson, special guest of the Reverend Pastor.

“The delegation will pay their respects to the King of Sanwi,” explained Olivier Kattie, the sovereign’s spokesman, “and then go under the krindja [the emblematic tree planted in the village’s center]. The same ceremony as in 1992, when Michael Jackson came to Krindjabo, will be repeated in his honor. The impersonator will be dressed in the same princely apparel as Michael Jackson and inducted as Michael Jackson was.”

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