BY ANDREW IRO OKUNGBOWA
COME April 3 to 9, Lagos State will attract attention as it throws open its doors for the ‘Black Heritage Festival’. This is the third time it is holding.
Other celebrations of the black African heritage include Root Festival, which holds in The Gambia and PANAFEST in Ghana.
These celebrations, over the years, have grown to big cultural tourism events, attracting massive following from across the globe.
Lagos State first staged the Black Heritage Festival in 2001. The second edition held in 2002.
Themed Memory and performance in the Return to Source, the week long feast will hold in selected venues in Lagos, with Badagary as home of the festival.
The formal opening ceremony is at the Tafawa Balewa Square (TBS) on April 3. Nobel Laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka, who is the special consultant to the festival, succinctly paints a picture of the goals of the festival and what to expect. “A festival of Reconnection, Revaluation, Revindication – this is the feast that Lagos State plans to serve up to the discerning palates from within the country, the continent and The Diaspora of the Caribbean and the Americans.’’
On the package, Soyinka has this to say: “Inspired by the spirit of convergence for which Lagos remains pre-eminent, the Lagos Black Heritage Festival celebrates the creativity of Lagos within a carnivalseque of traditional and contemporary dance, music, theatre, a children’s heritage village, a regatta and other artistic offerings both inter-state and international.’’
Soyinka speaks of the expectations of the organisers, which among others, is to attract thousands of people to the city and the ancient enclave of Badagary inspired by the muse. “The Lagos Black Heritage Festival is a seven day cultural manifestation during which hundreds of performers will animate the ancient city of Badagary and cosmopolitan Lagos in a blend of the traditional and the modern, welcoming thousands of visitors with a feast to entrance the senses and linger in the memory for years to come.’’
TO realise the theme of this edition and fulfil the essence of the festival, the organisers are celebrating three of the continent’s eminent personalities. They are Aime Cesaire, Aliqune Diop and Leopold Sedar Senghor. Cesaire, a renowned poet, dramatist, cultural activist and pan – Africanist, along with Senghor, promoted the Black race through the Negritude and Beingness of Black philosophy. His plays would be presented during the festival at the same time, readings of his poems.
A major part of the festival’s offerings is a painting competition. About 25 selected artists are participating in the contest themed City of a thousand masks.
Each artist is expected to choose a preferred location in and around Lagos and occupy him/herself with painting out the theme all through the festival.
The various works, alongside with the winning entry, will be presented at a gala night billed for April 8 at Nike Art Gallery.
Prizes and awards (Gold, Silver, Bronze) will be presented to the winners by the Governor of Lagos State, Babatunde Fashola, with Soyinka who is the initiator of the awards, as special guest.
The painting competition is being done in conjunction with the Caterina de’ Medici Africa, Caterina de’ Medici Company in Florence and the Lagos Black Heritage Festival.
The first edition of Caterina de’ Medici Painting Award was held in 2002 in Florence with artists from all over the world including three Nigerian artists in attendance while the second edition held in 2009 still in Florence with a Nigerian, Samuel Ebohon emerging top.
Outlook of the festival’s packages
Colloquium: Provides a platform for academic discourse on tenacity of memory in the quest for identity and explores the relevance of traditional mores and values to contemporary society and rescues the authentic history of African peoples from Centuries of denial and distortions. The session will also explore the integration of traditional healing and scientific intelligence in society and its imperatives for the present.
Arts and Crafts: Artisans of Lagos extraction and their descendants will exhibit and offer their products for sale at designated locations in Lagos and Badagary zones. Display hours are between 10am and 9pm.
Music: Performances will encompass musical modes associated with the city of Lagos from apala, juju to jazz, reggae to afrobeat. The legacy of Steve Rhodes, the first African winner of the Welsh Eistedfodd Music festival, will be featured in both choir and orchestral concerts.
Theatre: The plays of Aime Cesaire will occupy centre place, supported by African drama on the festival theme. These plays would reawaken, revaluate and rekindle our sense of the pride of the black being.
Dance: The festival aims to expand the knowledge and enjoyment of audiences in the experimental advances of African dance through a display of original and imaginative choreography, centred on historic and contemporary themes.
Boat Regatta: The boat regatta is ancient manifestation of this culture, a combination of grace, rhythm and colour.
Publication: A rare display of publications in the promotion of African history, cultures and philosophy from around the world, this segment also constitutes a tribute to the memory of the protagonists who dedicated their lives to this task of race retrieval.
Slavery Artefacts: A selection of the actual devices used to contain and degrade African humanity, reminding us of a brutal passage but also of the human resistant will. This section will feature the documentary of a West African festival that celebrates the defeat of slave raids on the African soil.
Art: A gallery dedicated to how artists have interpreted their grasp of the African past. It will also feature canvasses from the competing artists on the selected theme: ‘City of a thousand masks.’
Fitila Procession: Fitila means lamp, the traditional oil – lamp of the Yoruba. A day of contemplation is dedicated to the memory of those who left these shores, never to return. Their spirits will be evoked and placated through a solemn procession with invocations.
Attractions of Badagary
The town was founded around 1425 A. D. It is the second biggest commercial town of Lagos State and it is about one hour drive from Lagos barring any traffic gridlock. It is the gateway to the Republic of Benin and Ghana, among other, neighbouring West Africa countries on the coastal area of the state.
Slaves were ferried from the west coast of Africa through Badagary to America around 1500s with no fewer than 550, 000 slaves transported through the town
Palace of Akran of Badagary: The seat of the traditional ruler of the town is based here and holds a lot of attractions for people, as it is the custodian of the enduring and rich tradition, cultural values and history of the people. There is an ethnographic museum with age-long relics and artefacts housed in it.
Missionary Cemetery: It is the burial for many of the missionaries that served in the town.
The First Storey Building: This is one of the most extant relics of the town, an ancient building, which is believed to be the first of such structure in Nigeria. It has over the years been renovated and preserved. It was built by the Anglican church. Bishop Ajayi Crowder, a Nigerian and former slave once lived here. The wooden stairs, Missionary trust fund, a copy of the Bible translated from the English language to Yoruba can still be found in it.
Vlekte Slave Market: This was the location where slaves put on display and traded off to different slave buyers.
Other locations: This include the slave port, cannons of war, Mobee family slave museum,“Agia tree”, under which Christianity was first preached in 1842 and Badagary museum, which host a rich and vast relics and artifacts depicting the slave trade era.