- Written By 10Melanin Team
10 African Festivals Similar To Halloween
Everybody loves Halloween, the chance to have fun and dress up is so important and black people have proven time and time again that we're the best at it. However, sometimes the connections we have to western holidays can feel somewhat misplaced. During slavery and colonisation religion's such as Christianity taught us to turn our back on our ancestor's cultural rituals and celebrations. But there are plenty festivals similar to Halloween that are celebrated in the motherland that none of us are aware of, and while we can't celebrate them and nor should we imitate them, they are important for us to know. The western world has been good at modernising cultural festivals and traditions. This has allowed them to go continue on for generations and we're starting to see this in Africa as they try to hold on to their own cultural traditions, due to the continent becoming more modern. This list looks at the festivals celebrated in Africa that involve masks and costumes but also have some dark origins.
10. Chewa's Festival For The Dead (Malawi)
Warning : The following is not subtle for the faint hearted. The Chewa people are apart of the Bantu tribes and are mostly found in Malawi. Traditionally when a community member has died, it is customary that the body of the deceased is washed. The body is then taken to a sacred place where the throat is slit and water is poured through the inside of the body. It is quite common in most cultures that the body of the deceased is washed and prepared, but not necessarily in the same way of the Chewa people. After the water has ran through the body it is then collected and a meal is prepared with it for the whole community, as it is believed the body has been cleared of any immorality and might help stop the spreading of disease.
9. Odo Festival (Nigeria)
The Odo Festival marks the return of the dead to the northern Igbo villages of Nigeria. The festival happens every two years and can last up to eight months and has three stages. The first stage is the arrival of the Odo (dead), it involves many celebrations and festivities which welcome the spirits back. The second is where the spirits stay at their ancestral homes, this can last around 6 months to give time for the spirits to interact with their living relatives. The third is the spirits departure, and can be very emotional for residents as they won't be with their deceased ancestors for another 2 years and this part is called Awuru Odo Festival.
8. Odun Egungun (Nigeria)
Egungun in the simplest terms means any Yoruba masquerade figure, as you can see in the image above. The Yourba people come from Yorubaland, which in modern day spans across the areas of Nigeria, Togo and Benin. The Egungun are celebrated in festivals also known as Odun Egungun which honour the Yoruba's deceased family members and acts as the medium for the masker's to transformation into their ancestors. The festival involves rituals and celebrations that are believed to help develop trade and wealth, generally bonding the people of Yorubaland together regardless of their religious beliefs, this occurs at the end of the dry season and lasts seven days. Each of the numerous lineages are given a separate day to perform and the masker is kept at a distance from the surrounding crowd with the help of attendants dressed in masquerade costumes of different types.
7. The Makishi Masquerade (Zambia)
The Makishi masquerade is performed at the end of the Mukanda, an annual initiation ritual for boys between the ages of eight and twelve that celebrates the death of childhood and adolescence to manhood. The ceremony dates back at least 500 years and has been passed down through the generations, it is celebrated by the Luvale, Chokwe, Luchazi and Mbunda people, who live in the northwestern and western provinces of Zambia. Every April, the young boys are taken away and isolated in the bush where they are circumcised, tested of their courage and taught about their future roles as men and husbands. Each initiate is assigned a specific masked character, which remains with him throughout the entire process. The completion of the Mukanda is celebrated with a graduation ceremony in which the entire village attends, this is where the Masked characters (Makishi) dance and perform until the graduates re-emerge from the camp to reintegrate with their communities as adult men.
6. Fêtes des Masques Festival (Mali)
Martha de Jong-Lantink
The Fête Des Masques is celebrated every year during the months of April and May by the Dogon people in Mali. It takes place as a memorial to the villagers’ dead and to celebrate the harvest. Masks are the most important symbol of Dogon culture they are believed to protect against vengeance and help pass on knowledge through the generations. Dancers are performed to recount the story of the origin of the Dogon people and although these are now often performed for tourists they still remain sacred and important to the villagers. Each dancer, representing a different spirit performs, leaping and waving his stick and looking for evil spirits which might prevent the deceased from going to paradise. There are other Fête Des Masques celebrated in the neighbouring countries of Ivory Coast and Burkina Faso, but it is the Dogon people who are pictured.
5. Kakamotobi (Ghana)
Kakamotobi also known simply as the Fancy Dress Festival, is an annual masquerade festival held from Christmas to New Year's Day by the people of Winneba. It began almost 100 years ago when Dutch and British colonisers introduced putting on masks and wearing fanciful attires to socialize in the coastal towns of Ghana. The people of Winneba adopted and owned this practice by setting up various masquerade troupes, to create elaborate characters and perform with marching bands for their townsfolk. To mark Ghana's independence, the institution was formalised by Ghana's first president, Dr. Kwame Nkrumah and now occurs yearly. Although costumes vary greatly many of the more traditional outfits serve as satire and to mock the colonisers.
4. Gungu Festival (DR Congo)
The Gungu festival, also known as Fesnag, dates back as far as 1925 and originally was started to commemorate Belgian National Day. The Pende people who live in the Gungu region, like much of Congo have been exploited with several of their sculptures and artwork taken away to Belgium, so it's great they were able to steal something back. Although it has colonial origins, it's very much an African festival, rich in Congolese culture. The festival lasts between five to seven days and is involves important, but secret, initiation rituals which help young boys transition into manhood. During this time they learn to weave raffia costumes and spirits of the ancestors are summoned to interact with the living and give guidance. Symbols of the occasion include the famous Minganji circumcision masks, which are pictured above. The festival draws people from all over the country as various troops and performers from all the tribes are welcome to participate in the celebrations.
3. Ouidah Voodoo Festival (Benin)
While Voodoo in the western world is often dismissed or seen as something extinct, nearly 80 percent of Benin still believe in Voodoo and consider it very powerful and something that must be respected. Almost 10,000 people visit the Ouidah Voodoo festival every year in January, to witness the plays, ceremonies and performances. The delegations of the different voodoo communities come to the beach, where the festival is held, and pay tribute to the "pope" of the Voodoo and the most powerful wizards, where animal sacrifices take place, a common practice in Voodoo. Other common sights are Zangbetos, whose outfits resemble haystacks as seen in the photo above, they are considered to be the night watchmen and charged with the maintenance of law and order.
2. Eyo Festival (Nigeria)
The Eyo Festival traditionally is held when a king or chief of Lagos dies, to help escort the departed soul and usher in a new king, however in modern times it is more commonly performed as a way to attract tourists. The word "Eyo" refers to the white-clad masquerades who represent the spirits of the dead, and in Yoruba language known as "Agogoro Eyo" which means "Tall Eyo". The festival dates back to 20th of February, 1854 when it was first performed to commemorate the life of the Oba Akitoye. During the festival, main roads are closed as the hundreds of white robed figures move about in the streets singing and dancing.
1. FESTIMA (Burkina Faso)
The Festival International des Masques et des Arts also known as FESTIMA is a biennial festival that celebrates traditional African masks, it was founded in 1996 to help preserve traditional cultural practices in modern times. The event draws people from all over west Africa, who come to showcase their heritage from over 50 communities, some of which are seen in this list. The events you can witness here are dances, performances, live music and you can also learn about traditional culture from seminars, storytelling and activities for children. It is estimated that 100,000 people visit the festival each year with 2,000 of those being international.