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ThrowBack Thursday: Echoes from FESTAC ‘77

Symbolically, the 2nd World Black and African Festival of Arts and Culture (FESTAC) began on the 15th January 1977 and ran until the 12th February 1977 in Lagos, Nigeria. The event, which had its first edition in Dakar, Senegal way back in 1966, was a celebration of the values of Afrofuturism.

Then president of Senegal, Leopold Sedar Senghor, had mainly spearheaded a movement called Negritude which extolled and celebrated the arts, culture and total of the African civilization. It was on the heels of this that the first edition of the festival was held in Senegal.

General Olusegun Obasanjo, whom the onus had fallen upon to govern the nation after his boss, General Murtala Muhammed was assassinated in a failed coup in February 13th 1976, thought that Nigeria should rightly host the 2nd edition of the Afrofuturistic celebration.

Choosing January 15th of 1977 to flag off the event was important as it was the day the bloodiest coup in Nigeria’s history was carried out in 1966. The date was not only replacing the dark shadows dangling over the fate of the nation in our collective memory, since 1966, but it also went on to foster inter-ethnic and cultural cohesion between the peoples and cultures of Nigeria and Africa at large.

As the event opened, a Sango priest set the festival bowl aflame by some magic; even 1,000 pigeons were released to symbolize the freedom and unity of Black peoples across the world.

Another important part of the festival was the mask emblem – which coincidentally was also a subject of controversy as it reminded Africans of the exploitative colonial past which Europeans had forced on them for centuries. The government of Obasanjo was reported to have written to the British government and the British Museum to lease the use of the mysterious and history-laden 16th-century Benin mask, for a whopping sum of $3 million, but all was to no avail.

The ivory mask, which measured 22.5 cm high and 12.5 cm wide was in the possession of Oba Ovonramwen Nogbaisi (aka Overami) who ruled from 1888 until he was sacked from the throne in 1897 by Ralph Moor, the British Consul General of the Niger Coast Protectorate. And since the time it has been locked in the British Musuem, it has generated major controversies as to right the British government or other individuals had to keep holding onto artifacts which are emblematic to Nigerians.

On the D-day, at the opening ceremony which started by 9 a.m and ran till late in the night, a replica of the mask was provided as replacement for the purpose of the festival event. The festival also had several iconic programmes lined up which ranged from colloquim, durbar and regatta, visual and performing art, among other activities while featuring some renowned names from Africa such as Fela Kuti, Wole Soyinka, Stevie Wonder, Miriam Makeba, Osibisa and other top dignitaries from across Africa in attendance.

Some participants in the parade wore adorned in colourful ceremonial robes, some were strutting around the Tafawa Balewa Square venue on 14-foot stilts, Nigerian dancers carried flaming urns on their heads while while fire bellowed from the mouth of some performers – all to the satisfaction and delight of the audience watching from across the world.

When the festival ended in 12th February, 1977, the Center for Black and African Arts and Civilization (CBAAC), a federal government parastatal with offices in Marina, Lagos and FCT, Abuja was established with the mandate to preserve and keep in trust the art heritage and artifacts from the 59 countries which participated in the festival.

Surely, this was an event which not only celebrated the resplendence of African ingenuity and the goodness of its people; the festival effectively opened up Nigeria to the international community and perhaps for the first time, it rightly assumed the role of Big Brother for other Black nations in the world.

Featured image source: African Integrity Magazine

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Adedoyin Tella

Adedoyin is mostly a farmer in the day who also dabbles into technology at night, in search of other cutting edge intersections. He's on Twitter @i_fix_you

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