The various carnivals held across different states in the country have come and gone, but for many, the colourful and exciting memories of those moments will linger on. Mina Ogbanga takes a look at some of those moments showcasing the highs and lows, the benefits and challenges that would make these events avenues for sustainable development and economic transformation
Standing at an amazing 40 feet high and moving rhythmically to the beats of the drums, the Periangala masquerade, regarded as one of the national wonders from the heart of the Niger Delta, was welcomed by thunderous applause from thousands of spectators who had converged to have an experience of the annual Rivers State Carnival popularly known as Carniriv.
Carnivals have been holding in the country though on a much smaller scale but with the return of democracy in 1999, the events have been taken to another level such that today, some carnivals are being marketed internationally and are attracting thousands of visitors outside the country. The Cross River State carnival initiated by the then governor, Mr. Donald Duke, introduced a brand new era of events to be reckoned with.
From the land to the sea to the dazzling colours of costumes and uniforms on display during these jamborees of exciting moments, the various carnivals come with interesting features. For those who witnessed the aquatic festival with "artificial rivers" like was seen in Abuja or the natural creeks of the P.H. tourist beach like the Rivers State Carnival, they are usually a rare beauty to behold from the ed snippier (Agbara masquerade) to the Ogwein masquerade. All dazzled the beach waters with very colourful gigs and war canoe, deep sea treasures that could be empowered to tell the story on the state's culture and man's conquest of the sea, land and air.
What makes these carnivals thrive is the ability to finetune a cross-over of cultural heritages, like the masquerades came from across the communities in a manner creating an aura of cultural mystery; this is one of the many reasons Carniriv showcases Rivers as a state of a thousand masquerades.
The Periangala masquerade of Okrika has its roots in Ogbogbo Community of Okrika L.G.A, Rivers State. The inspiration for the masquerade display came from young people watching a thrilling display of monkeys in the mangrove. These tremendous masquerades have become a key feature in most major Carnivals locally and internationally, little wonder their uniqueness led them to winning the trophy for best in 'Ekere', the rhythm of the tribes at the Carnival 2012.
Another aspect of the carnivals unique to Rivers State is the local government exhibition at the Carnival Village right after the individual local government performances and before the heritage parade. Items on display at this exhibition include local food delicacies, clothes to historical artifacts and so much more. It indeed was like a replay of a mix of history, sociology and culture class.
The celebration also offers an avenue for going retrospect with the history, achievements and challenges of the communities: the theme for Carniriv 2012 which was "Reminiscing the Past and Consolidating the Future," afforded the various local governments to take the audience through a journey from the past to the future; from Opobo known for their palm oil cultivation to the Akuraku weaver in Oyigbo. The Gas turbines in Bonny, gin production in Ahoada and the gin processing factory all depict the uniqueness of each local government and a traditional trend lost in the memories of many.
The booths were classic representation of cultural splendor and collectively emphasize industriousness of the people.
Carnival and the River of Frenzy
Apart from football, no other event evokes in Nigerians the kind of frenzy, friendship, unity and national integration as cultural revival initiatives such as the carnivals. This was shown by the thousands of persons that participated in the various events held in Abuja, Benue, Lagos, Port Harcourt and of course, Calabar. There was inter-state participation in some of the carnivals to an extent that competitions were initiated in categories like the best in culture, dance, song, arts, colors and costumes.
Despite the security challenges the country may be exposed to at the moment, the carnivals have gone a long way to sell Nigeria tourism outside the country and stand as potent avenues to showcase the rich cultures and traditions in Nigeria.
The Busy Nights
The carnivals were not just day affairs; the nights were equally mesmerizing as they offered the shade for performances by a galaxy of music stars from different genres that coloured the events with the sea of heads that filled the stadia and the screams that nearly drowned the performances. The nights were electrifying and gave the tourists another angle of much-needed fun. It was reassuring that night life was resuming in the Niger Delta and many loved this trend. Equally, the night gave ample room for people to indulge in getting close to their new friends, colleagues and to an extent, lovers.
Bevy of Beauties
No carnival is complete without talking about the unparalleled beauty of African women. From the big bosomed to the slender and trendy, the women turned out classically adorned in native or continental attires that blew the minds of many away. Like many said, the dance steps of the ladies kept spectators mesmerised and seemed like a sudden unveiling of hidden treasures long hidden triggering a sudden surge of energy amongst spectators. In the ideal cases, decency even in the dressing was in itself a beauty and one, which not a few look forward to annually.
Dance of the Fireflies, Coat of Many Colours Or A Case of Optical Shock?
Well, while some saw the beauty and glitz of the carnivals, others were indifferent to its staging, saying it was a distraction with so much money invested and little impact. In fact in some of the carnivals, dress code was a typical a case for concern. Some of the people the writer spoke with shared their views. Chukwudike Abraham said he was concerned about the western culture swallowing the African heritage.
"I am very concerned about the way things are going these days in Africa, our culture and traditions are dying very quickly; because of western Influence, the dignity of the Africa woman is gone," he said in response to the question on his observation about dressing during one of the carnivals.
Anthony Ogbo was concerned about the changing culture viz a viz the state of the nation. "I would love to copy the West or be a Brazilian but if we really are out to copy the West, let us adapt their style of accountability and transparency in government, not their beach lifestyle".
Lambert Mbaeri, a culture enthusiast, said "bottom power" sells and on the flip side it breeds crime fast not to mention etiquette question including indecent exposure".
"I don't care whether it is an international carnival. The idea behind a carnival is to showcase the rich culture of the people and not to import all those exposed butts without NAFDAC registration," Ann Oruede said.
There were quite a few who were unfazed about the dress sense, like Ngozichi Omekara who responded that as far as modern carnivals goe, "this is the trend. When we imported the carnival, I had hoped that it will be more creative and reflect our modern tradition and culture. Some of us know that carnival was coined from "arnervale' meaning 'without meat'; a wild street party celebrated to say farewell to the flesh just before Lent by Catholics in Europe."
In spite of all these, Williams Rose considers the event a remarkable experience for many across the world to come witness. As is the practice, most of the carnivals wrap-up with the selection of a carnival queen. In Rivers, a peace ambassador was selected by the title Miss ECOWAS.
Carnivals and Economies of Scale
Key states that have been involved in organizing one form of carnival or the other have come to place great premium on the annual festivities as it helps showcase their rich heritage, which over the years is gradually becoming the delight of both foreign and local tourists alike. Contingents from different local governments and states often go out of their way to outwit each other with the most prepared becoming champions.
Annually, there is an excitement in the air as states and local governments converge to celebrate unity amidst cultural diversities and make efforts to send a strong message to the world about the improved security situation. In other instances, it becomes a moment to demonstrate the uniqueness of their various acrobatics and aquatic displays, songs, fashion, style and artistic prowess; every one often battle ready. For instance the Abuja Carnival hass a convergence of the North like Nassarawa and the South like Cross River all battle ready, awaiting the blowing of the whistle.
Despite the fact carnivals in some states may have been successful, some spectators shared thoughts on ways to make them better. Kalio Anga stated that "the carnivals aid employment but the late release of funds hinder early and quality presentation. Corruption should not hinder massive participation of the youths. Also, efforts to partner the private sector are crucial."
Others, such as Porokie Kuna, said "perhaps mini cultural events could be held within the local governments for best selection of contingents. Nationally too, there should be a synchronised time table so there are no clashes between carnivals for quality stakeholder participation."
Finally, Anga had this to say: "To be a viable economic tool, there needs to be thorough rebranding and mindset reorientation with improved communication strategies for awareness." Proper packaging will make carnivals not only a viable economic tool but possible product for export.