By - Isaac Joseph
Africa is culturally endowed and boasts of some of the finest festivals around the world. These festivals are definitely charming and beautiful for visitors and tourists to behold as they are unique emblems of arts, beauty and tourism. Below are some of Africa’s finest festivals in no particular order:
The Gerewol Festival – Chad
One of the most exciting cultural experiences any traveler can experience is the Gerewol Festival. During this period, which is usually the last week of September, the Wodaabe tribes, who are mainly nomadic, gather at the end of the wet season for what has been described by many as the world’s most competitive male beauty pageant! Stereotyped beliefs about marriage and gender roles are questioned and a unique viewpoint about these concepts is rebirth.
At this festival, which is usually a week-long, various tribes gather on foot, via animals like camel or donkey to celebrate and most importantly – entice a lover or mate. The men spend hours dressing for the Yakke dancing with a small pocket mirror with them at all times to ensure their clothing and makeup are well done. For the Yakke dancing, three female judges each declare a winner who will be publicly praised and carry fame for years.
Marriahe system among the Wodaabe is polygamous in nature; the women take leads in partnerships as a woman who wishes to be ‘stolen’ from her current husband by a more attractive mate, during the dance, taps him on the shoulder to indicate her choice. The Gerewol festival affords travelers a unique opportunity to widen their cultural horizons. The Gerewol festival is worth planning a trip around!
Eid al-Fitr Festival – Across Africa
Eid al-Fitr means “festival of breaking the fast” and traditionally, this three-day festival is marked at the end of the fasting month of Ramadan, which depends on when the moon is sighted. Though, the number of vacation days varies by country. The Eid celebrations are celebrated by Muslims across the world who partakes in communal dawn prayers, followed by a short sermon. In some other countries, the prayers are held in mosques or large halls and in other countries, it is in the open. Different countries have traditional desserts and sweets that are prepared before Eid or on the morning of the first day. These foods range from special biscuits and bread to cakes and puddings.
After Eid prayers, people congratulate one another as they head home. And the spend the rest of the day paying visits to relatives and neighbours while accepting sweets as they move around from house to house. Children, dressed in their new attires, are offered different gifts and cash to celebrate the joyous festival. This is often preceded by the giving of alms to the poor, also known as zakat, which is one of the five pillars of Islam. In capitals of Muslim-majority countries, streets are decorated with festive lights and colourful carnivals are held to celebrae the end of the holy month.
Abu Simbel Festival – Egypt
Every fan of the ancient Egypt will cherish this festival, which takes place twice a year on October and February 22nd. The festival comes with a unique magic at these two times of the year. There is an alignment of the sun with the entrance of the Abu Simbel temples honoring Ramses II and his wife, Queen Nefertari, to illuminate two of the three statues within – leaving Ptah, the god of the underworld, in darkness.
Funnily enough, the Egyptian government decided to move the entire temple when they made plans to dam Lake Nasser in the 20th century. They were able to do this by cutting the monument into massive blocks for transport, with each weighing about 30 tons! More importantly, this was carefully done so as to ensure that the temples get align again as they were initially. However, because of the process, the day had to be moved forward. Initially, the alignment would have occurred on the 21st of October and February. The festival is celebrated today by accompanying traditional Nubian dances, live music, and plenty of street food outside the venue. It is a sight to behold for tourists.
Timkat, Feast of Epiphany – Ethiopia
Timkat (also known as Timket) is an Orthodox Christian celebration of the Ethiopian Epiphany. It celebrates the baptism of Jesus Christ in the Jordan River. The origin of this feast dates back to over 1000 years ago. Pilgrims and tourists come from different countries to partake in the festival and witness the re-enactment of the baptism. Large crowds, all over the country, gather as the religious festivities commence, with spectacular processions, song, dance and prayer.
On the first day of the religious ceremony, models of the Ark of the Covenant, known as Tabots, are taken to the river in a procession led by the most senior priest of each church, who carries the arks on top of their heads. Later at dawn, the water is blessed and sprinkled on the participants, with some jumping in the water to renew their baptismal vows. The Tabot is a symbol of the Ark of the Covenant and the tablets are a description of the Ten Commandments, which God gave to Moses on Mount Sinai to serve as the basic principles of moral behaviour for humanity. It is believed that the original Ark of the Covenant is under permanent guard in Northern Ethiopia by priests who have sworn never to leave the sacred grounds.
The second day of Timkat is the the main celebration, with Orthodox Ethiopians from every part of the society merrily marching through the streets in colour riot, celebrating. All except one of the Tabots are returned to their respective churches. However, on the third day of Timkat, known as the feast of St. Michael the Archangel, the Tabot of St. Michael’s Church is returned, accompanied by a procession of priests and faithfuls and once the ceremonials are over, there is celebration galore. Ethiopia’s biggest festival is marked by music, food, and processions. Memorable places to enjoy the festival are Gondar, Lalibela and Addis Ababa. In Addis Ababa, the festival is particularly spectacular as the streets are decorated with green, red and yellow to represent the Ethiopian flag while priests walk through the streets holding very colourful and richly adorned umbrellas.
International Festival of the Sahara, Douz, Tunisia
The festival, which is also known as the Camel festival, started in 1910 when Tunisia was under French rule. It took on its modern identity in 1967 according to the will of Habib Bourguiba, to become the country’s oldest and best-known festival under Tunisia’s first new republic president.
This annual festival that celebrates the culture of the Sahara desert attracts more than 50,000 people. The venue of the festival is in the heart of the Tunisian Sahara in the small oasis town of Douz. The festival, which was originally a Bedouin marriage market, is now a four-day affair filled with singing, dancing, feasting and camel racing. Also, there’s a beautiful craft fair and ample time to relate with nomads from the surrounding areas as well as tourists from all walks of life.
The main events are held in the H’naiech stadium in front of the desert surrounded by Bedouin tents after the opening ceremony. The major highlights of the celebrations are camel marathons, fantasia- galloping Arab horses ridden by daring riders, a Bedouin marriage, sloughi desert hunting dogs – catching rabbits. Later in the evening, various groups from visiting countries perform songs and dances. The poetry contest, which is the central event, is run by the desert poet, Abdellatif Belgacem. This festival has become an important media and touristic event that is widely followed by the media from all over the world.
Christmas – Across Africa
Christmas is an annual festival celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ, and it is observed mainly on December 25 as a religious and cultural celebration by billions of people around the world. Christmas is a feast central to the Christian liturgical year and preceded by the season of Advent or the Nativity Fast and initiates the season of Christmastide, which historically in the West lasts twelve days and culminates on Twelfth Night. Although, the Coptic Christians in Ethiopia and Egypt celebrate Christmas on the 7th of January (rather than the 25th of December) because they follow a different calendar.
Christmas Day is a public holiday in many parts of the world; it also forms a core part of the holiday centered around it. On Christmas day, carols are sung from the Congo on down to South Africa. During this period, meats are roasted, gifts are exchanged and family visits are made.
Hermanus Whale Festival – South Africa
This great festival, Hermanus Whale Festival, which is described as an ‘enviro-arts’ festival is a celebration to the return of the southern right whales to the coastal waters of Southern Africa. The festival is a tribute to the legacy left to the town by Wendy the Whale whose story is about man’s ability to live in peace with nature as well as people’s ability to gather as communities valuing the environment. Events and activities during the whale festival are done to create awareness on how to protect the whales and all marine wildlife on our coastal waters. The festival is held in September, which is the climax of whale activity in the region. The festival is renowned as the best land-based whale watching destination in the world, and every year, about 100,000 visitors assemble at the pretty seaside town to watch the whales and enjoy some truly delicious food and revel in great music and a festive atmosphere!
Recently voted by ‘The Telegraph’ as one of the best destinations worldwide for watching marine mammals, the Hermanus Whale festival lasts over a period of 3 days. In its 28th year, the Hermanus Whale Festival is the oldest and largest festival on the South African whale coast calendar and while the whales are mainly the star performers at the festival, the adorable giants are joined on land by A-list entertainers and musicians, an array of food stalls, kiddies activities and events suitable for both the young and old.
Calabar Carnival – Nigeria
Calabar Carnival, also tagged “Africa’s Biggest Street Party”, presumed to be the largest in the whole of Africa is highly costumed to reflect the cultural heritage of the people. According to Osima-Dokubo, “the carnival aimed to include more aspects of local heritage and culture and at the same time strengthen the capacity of the locals to participate in an economically beneficial way.” The carnival begins every 1st of December and lasts until the 31st of December and has enhanced the cultural mosaic of Nigeria people while entertaining millions of spectators within and outside the Nigeria. The traditional rulers, also known as Obong in Efik language and their cabinets also participate in this beautiful cultural carnival. They dress in their traditional regalia to reflect on the cultural carnival. The festival is for all who are lovers of the cultural carnival.
The Calabar carnival officially kicks off with a tree-lightening ceremony while the first three weeks of the event will be featuring musical entertainment, street parties, art shows, food competitions, an intense essay writing competition, masque events and traditional dances. Some of the major highlights of the events in the Calabar carnival and festival are the crowning of the carnival queens and kings for each band, J’ouvert Band fetes, the children carnival, the Christmas party cultural carnival, the Annual Ekpe masquerade festival and the Mary Slesssor Golf Charity dinner.
Festival of the Dhow Countries – Tanzania
This festival is often described as East Africa’s largest cultural event. It is also known as the Zanzibar International Film Festival and it brings together the arts and cultures of several East African countries with those of India, Pakistan, the Gulf States, Iran and the Indian Ocean islands. It brings together a huge variety of cultural experiences from music, theatre and performing arts, to workshops, seminars and conferences while the film competition is the main event. The festival is held in several beautiful and historical venues near the seafront in Stone Town, with a Village Panorama that takes the festival outwards to the rural communities.
The festival is arguably the largest multi disciplinary art and cultural festival in Africa, and now features 15 programs over the stipulated 10 days and they include: Film Competition, Film Workshops, Opening and Closing Nights, Film Outreach Projections, Women panorama, Children panorama, Village panorama, Festival of Festivals, Soko Film, Art and Exhibition, Children Film panorama, UNICEF Life skills Camps, Children Peace camps, Difficult Dialogues and Historical/Cultural Village Tour.
Fes Festival of World Sacred Music – Morocco
This wonderful spiritual festival is a 10-day celebration held in mid-summer (late May or early June) that takes place in the imperial city of Fes. In 1994, Moroccan scholar and philanthropist Faouzi Skali founded the festival was to showcase major musical traditions of sacred, spiritual music and world music. The festival is held annually in Fes and affords you the rare opportunity of bumping into whirling dervishes from Iran as well as mystics, chanters, and dancers from all around the world. Concurrently, a festival celebrating the local culture of Fes is held to. Both festivals gives visitors a wonderful insight into the traditional life in the old walled city.
The festival also features a four-day Forum called Rencontres de Fes under the rubric “Giving Soul to Globalisation” where politicians, social activists, academics and religious leaders gather to discuss the emerging issues of our times. Subjects discussed include conflict resolution, climate change, urban renewal, social justice and much more. There are also intimate afternoon concerts at the Dar Batha Museum and its surrounding Andalusian gardens; Art and film exhibitions; Poetry readings at the Dar Bartha Museum and other locations within Fes; A one-day excursion to the Roman ruins of Volubilis with Arc of Triumph as a backdrop setting for a musical performance; Evening concerts at the Bab Makina Palace courtyard; Sufi nights, which include music rituals concerts that begin at midnight and performance are made by Moroccan Sufi brotherhoods in the Dar Tazi gardens, in the heart of the Fes medina. The Fes Festival combines high art, spiritual energy, intellectual challenges and popular entertainment.
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