Many – and varied – festivals are celebrated in West and East Africa. Each one brings the community together to share the dances, songs and music of their own unique tradition. The dances are often wild, the songs powerful, the rhythm of the music hypnotic and the costumes and masks multicolored and very fancy. These festivals can be held in a variety of places – from a royal court filled with dignitaries dressed in tribal costumes, to just simply under the shade of a mango tree on a lakeside under which villagers cheerfully celebrate.
Wherever you are, you can be sure you will be welcomed warmly and invited to join the ceremony. During these festivals, the people of West Africa share with you their lands, cultures, rich heritage and amazing atmospheres.
Voodoo is a traditional religion on the Gulf of Guinea Coast, around Aneho. All along the coast of Togo, Voodoo, an animist religion, gathers a lot of followers together. Passed down by the ancestors, it is still practiced with fervor today. The religious experience is much richer and more complex than westerners can imagine. These voodoo practices are not a form of black magic. To millions, both in West Africa and elsewhere, Voodoo represents a religion that gives meaning and order to their lives. In a village we join in a Voodoo ceremony: the frenetic rhythm of the drums and the chants of the followers help to invoke the voodoo spirit who takes possession of some of the dancers who fall into a deep state of trance. Traditional healers treat illnesses with local herbs and also by offering sacrifices to the numerous fetish altars that fill their courtyard. The God “Fa” is an esoteric divinity consulted by people to solve their everyday big or small life issues. A fetish priest interprets the answers to the listening adept.
Each year on January 10th, a special day is celebrated in Benin where everyone celebrates their ancestral cults.. On January 10th, all the Voodoo’s adepts meet in Ouidah. A long procession of the adepts, some by foot, some by motorbike, some by taxi, move to the ‘Door of Non Return’. All are dressed in traditional costumes with white being the dominant colour along with colourful beads. The festival has its peak with the arrival of the Dagbo Houno, the chief feticheur of Ouidah. Dances, libations and many masks feature throughout the day. People never get tired of exalting to their voodoos. As they reach the large square in Ouidah, the Eguns masks come togehter. Masks come together for dancing, chasing away the bad spirits and playing with people like a kind of “corrida”. In the evening Ouidah is exhausted but not yet fully satisfied. The festival goes on in the depths of backyards and courtyards, and will meet again the following year to renew their faith in Voodoo.
Dancing Mask Festival in March and April. When the masks invoke the rain… Every year when comes the rainy season, and many villages in Burkina Faso rely on the masks to get good rains; the masks are entrusted to act as intermediaries able to communicate directly with the Gods. The masks gather to perform a great ceremony; among them you will recognize the antelope, hare, caiman, duck, monkey, snake, and tortoise. All the inhabitants of the savannah will be gathered together along with their spirits ready to perform their dance for great pleasure. As Westerners, you will be fascinated by the beauty of the masks as well as by the complex choreography performed by the dancers. To the locals however, this ceremony is a real cult with its share of cheerful exclamations and ovations. The masks have the power to open a breach in the present and make the village slide into another dimension, a world of transcendence.
Timket, or the Feast of the Epiphany, is celebrated in the January of each year. The 3-day event commemorates the baptism of Christ and is one of the most colourful Ethiopian festivals. The night before the Timket, priests take the Tabot (which symbolises the Ark of the Covenant, containing the Ten Commandments) from each church to a tent at a consecrated pool or stream. There is frenetic activity, including the ringing of bells, blowing of trumpets and the burning of incense. In Addis Ababa, tents are pitched at Jan Meda, to the northeast of the city centre. At 02h00, mass is celebrated, attended by crowds of people carrying lighted oil lamps. At dawn, the priest uses a ceremonial cross to extinguish a candle burning on a pole in a nearby river. Inevitably, some of the congregation leap into the river. The Tabots are then taken back to the churches in procession, accompanied by horsemen, while the festivities continue. The festival lasts three days. It begins two weeks after the Ethiopian Christmas. The festival lasts all weekend and culminates on the following Monday, when John the Baptist’s baptism of Jesus is re-enacted en masse and many Ethiopians are baptized. The priests bless the water where the baptisms will take place.