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Thursday, January 13, 2022

FESTAC “77: Harvest of African Cultures and Values

The African Continent is endowed with good Cultural Heritage that should be a source of pride to all within the larger society.

To this end, the first ever World Festival of Negro Arts was held in Dakar, Senegal between April 1 and 24, 1966.

It was initiated by former President Leopold Senghor, under the auspices of UNESCO, with the participation of 45 African, European, Caribbean, and North/South African countries.

The Festac ’77, also known as the Second World Black and African Festival of Arts and Culture, was a major international festival held in Lagos, Nigeria, from January 15 to February 12,1977.

The month long event elaborately celebrated African culture and showcased to the world African music, fine art, literature, drama, dance and religion.

About 16,000 participants, representing 56 African nations and countries of the African Diaspora, performed at the event.

Among prominent Artists who performed at the festival were Stevie Wonder from United States, Gilberto Gil from Brazil, Bembeya Jazz National from Guinea, Mighty Sparrow from Trinidad and Tobago, Les Ballets Africains, South African Miriam Makeba, and Franco Luambo Makiadi.

At that period of the cultural event, it was the largest pan-African gathering to ever take place, with the official emblem of the festival like a replica crafted by Erhabor Emokpae of the royal Ivory mask of Benin.

Nigeria’s hosting of the festival consequently led to the establishment of the Nigerian National Council of Arts and Culture (NNCAA) Festac Village and the National Theatre, Iganmu, Lagos.

Four centres, including National Theatre, National Stadium, Surulere, Lagos City Hall and Tafawa Balewa Square were created for the global cultural event.

FESTAC’s inspiration came with the concept of developing ideas on Négritude and Pan-Africanism.

In the 1940s, Aimé Césaire and Leopold Sedar Sénghor, inspired by DuBois’ Pan-Africanism and Alain Locke’s vision of the New Negro, started a journal and publishing house in Paris called Présence Africaine, while both men were also members of the Société africaine de culture.

Présence Africaine and the Society of African Culture were facilitators of two congresses, one in 1956 and the other in 1959.The forums were convened with the intention of promoting black culture and civilisation.

The first congress was the Conference of Black Writers in Paris and the second was a black writers forum in Rome where Attendees included writers of African and Afro-descent heritage such as Alioune Diop, Cheikh Anta Diop, Léopold Senghor, and Jacques Rabemananjara, Richard Wright, Césaire, George Lamming, Horace Mann Bond, Jacques Alexis, John Davis, William Fontaine, Jean Price Mars, James Baldwin, Chester Himes, Mercer Cook and Frantz Fanon.
Participants were engaged with discussing ideas about the resurgence of African culture and the convocation of a festival of arts.

However, in 1966, with leadership provided by Leopold Senghor and subsidies from outside, notably France and UNESCO, the First World Festival of Black Arts was held in Dakar, Senegal, from April 1 to 24, 1966.

Following the successful hosting of the first festival, Nigeria was invited to hold the second festival in 1970 so as to promote a continuation of black unity through cultural festivals.

The host nation was responsible for providing the necessary infrastructure and facilities for a successful staging of the festival. However, a Civil War and changes in government led to the postponing of the festival to 1977.

Preparations for the festival (Festac) took off in Lagos on October 3 1972, when the International Festival Committee met for the first time and decided that the festival would be held in November 1974.

Besides, the name of the festival was changed from “World Black Festival of Arts and Culture” to “Second World Black and African Festival of Arts and Culture” so as to accommodate the realities of African unity. The date was further changed to November 1975.

One of the strategies used by the organisers for the successful festival was the splitting of the participating countries into 16 geographical zones, each zones having a committee made up of representatives of peoples of African descent, with the chairman of each zone becoming a member of the International Festival Committee. The committee thereafter acted as the administrative arm of the Festival.

The urge to improve on the Dakar festival led to Nigeria’s intention to create an extravagant show fuelled by new found oil money occasioned by era of oil boom and the new regime replacing the Gowon administration eventually led to change of date to 1977.

In order to generate publicity for the festival, the international committee advised the zones to encourage preliminary festivals.

Some Mini-festivals did take place, such as Carifesta hosted by Guyana, the Commonwealth Festival in London, Ghana’s National Exhibition of Arts and Crafts and Nigeria’s NAFEST.

The festival committee also chose the festival emblem, a replica of Erhabor Emokpae’s 16th-century Benin Ivory mask,the mask itself was last worn by Ovonramwen, a Benin king dethroned in 1897 by the Consul General of the Niger Coast Protectorate, Ralph Moor).


Another important feature for the historic cultural event was the construction of an housing estate christened ‘FESTAC’ Village to accommodate about 17,000 participants.

However, the long-term objective of the village under the Federal Housing Programme was to relieve some of the housing pressure in Lagos.

The housing estate was proposed for construction within two years, with more than 40 contractors working on different sites of the project.

In totality, 5,088 dwelling units were built prior to the festival and an additional 5,687 were to be completed by the end of 1977.

During the festival, the housing estate served as the venue for performance rehearsals and interaction by participants as various troupes rehearsed their routines in the day and at night.

For hosting the performances and lectures, a state-of-the-art multipurpose theatre was built, to serve also as a lasting centre of African Arts and culture.

The theatre’s design was based on the Palace of Culture and Sports in Varna, Bulgaria, with the Bulgarian firm Techno exportstroy hired to build it.

Also, the new complex had two exhibition halls, a 5,000-capacity performance and event hall, a conference hall with 1,600 seats and two cinema halls.

The theatre also hosted dance, music, art exhibitions, cinema, drama and the colloquium.

The aims of the festival was to ensure the revival, resurgence, propagation and promotion of Black and African culture and black and African cultural values and civilization, to present black and African culture in its highest and widest conception; bring to light the diverse contributions of black and African peoples to the universal currents of thought and arts.

Other purposes were to promote black and African artists, performers and writers and facilitate their world acceptance and their access to world outlets; to promote better international and interracial understanding and facilitating a periodic return to origin in Africa by black artists, writers and performers uprooted to other continents.

The formal opening of the ceremony took place on January 15, 1977 inside the National Stadium, Surulere, Lagos.

One of the highlights of the ceremony was a parade of participants representing 48 countries marching past visiting dignitaries, diplomats and the then Nigerian Head of State, Olusegun Obasanjo.

Some participants in the parade wore colourful ceremonial robes, some men were on 14-foot stilts, and Nigerian dancers carried flaming urns on their heads.

In order to symbolise the freedom and unity of Black peoples, 1,000 pigeons were released, a sango priest also set the festival bowl aflame, while the festival events usually began around 9 a.m and lasted till the midnight.

The colloquium was also at the heart of the festival and was held daily during first two weeks of activities with about 700 writers, artists and scholars, who participated in the lectures.

The theme of the lectures borders on the lack of intellectual freedom and the ambivalence experienced by Third World countries that sometimes turn to their colonisers for expertise while attempting to establish an image of confidence and independence to themselves as well as the rest of the world.

The declared purpose of the colloquium was to seek answers to the questions of how to revive and foster black and African artists and how to facilitate international acceptance and access to outlets.

Among the speakers at the events were Clarival do Prado Valladares, Lazarus Ekwueme, Babs Fafunwa and Eileen Southern.

The festival committee purchased a total of 2,003-45 seaters luxury buses and 91-26 seater buses for logistics reasons, particularly because the Durbar festival was staged in Kaduna, a city that is more than 700 kilometers from Lagos.

The event took place from February 5 to February 8,1977 .

Originally, Durbars in Nigeria were receptions held in honour of Princes; beginning from 1911, four Durbars had been held in Nigeria prior to 1977.

However, the FESTAC Durbar was a pageant that had emirs riding with their entourage of cavalry, camels, and entertainers as a sign of unity. It was a display of horsemen and entertainers such as musicians playing horns, Kakaki trumpets, the tambari and drums, among the entourage were Fulani, Bori and Bida masqueraders.

The Festac Durbar appropriated from ancient Hausa, Songhai and Kanembu customs such as Hawan Dawaki, also known as the mounting of horses, and a Bornu military ceremony called Tewur, which is a rally held by cavalry men before a major campaign.

Another historic event appropriated was the annual meetings of Fulani emirs held at the instance of the Caliphs of Sokoto in Kaura Namoda to mobilise contingents for expeditions against hostile states.

The boat regatta was another event staged far from the common venues but, unlike the Durbar, the regatta was staged in Lagos.

This was a three-day event performed at Queen’s Drive foreshore in Ikoyi, Lagos.

Participants were principally from Nigeria and the states represented were Edo, Cross River, Imo, Kwara, Ogun, Ondo and Lagos states. Each boat had an essemble of musicians, acrobats or masquerades and dancers. More than 200 boats were involved in the event.

There was also performing and visual art shows such as film, drama, music and dance, mostly staged during late afternoons and evenings at the National Theatre.

However, some drama and music shows were also staged at Tafawa Balewa Square, with modern drama and music shows usually staged in the afternoons and traditional drama and music shows staged in the evenings.

In totality, about 50 plays, 150 music and dance shows, 80 films, 40 art exhibitions and 200 poetry and dance sessions were staged.

On the eve of the inaugural ceremonies, the late Sory Kandia Kouyaté, a master Mande Griot, treated the Heads of State and Government to a stellar vocal and cora performance reminiscent.

The settings was reminiscent of Medieval Africa’s imperial and royal courts. Other musicians who performed were Osibisa, Miriam Makeba, Bembeya Jazz, Les Amazones, Louis Moholo, Dudu Pukwana, Donald Byrd, Randy Weston, Stevie Wonder and Sun Ra.

That apart, a music meeting was held on January 29, 1977 under the leadership of composer Akin Euba.

Also participating at the meeting were Mwesa Isaiah Mapoma, Kwabena Nketia and Mosunmola Omibiyi. Others present included instrumentalists, singers, public school teachers and graduate students of music.

For more than two hours, the participants discussed matters of mutual concern and explored ways of improving musical activities among Africans, both on the continent and in the Diaspora.

Several art exhibitions also took place at the National Theatre, Nigerian National Museum and around Tafawa Balewa Square where each country represented at the festival was given a booth to exhibit their paintings, musical instruments, woven cloths, books and art objects.

Some other notable exhibitions that took place were Africa and the Origin of Man, which was held at the National Theatre, and Ekpo Eyo’s 2000 Years of Nigerian Art, which included Nok terracottas, Benin court art, Igbo Ukwu, Ife and Tsoede bronzes and art objects.

A contemporary Nigerian exhibit featuring works from Bruce Onobrakpeya, Ben Enwonwu, Yusuf Grillo, Uche Okeke and Kolade Oshinowo was also part of the event.

A display of African architectural technology also took place at the National Theatre, the display included paintings, drawings, and models showing different architectural themes such as banco masonry structures, tensile structure and the Berber Courtyard of Matmata.

Consequent upon the successful completion of the festival, the artifacts of the 59 countries and communities were kept in trust by Nigeria, the host country.

This prompted the establishment of the Center for Black and African Arts and Civilization (CBAAC), a federal Parastatal with offices in Marina, Lagos and FCT, Abuja. Monuments of the festival are currently being preserved in a museum at the Center.

The archive of the USA Contingents’ participation is owned and maintained by photographer Marilyn Nance, the official photographer for FESTAC 77’s North American Zone (NAZ).

A two-time finalist for the W. Eugene Smith Award in Humanistic Photography, Nance is probably most well known for her complete documentation of FESTAC 77, the Second World Festival of Black and African Arts and Culture held in Lagos, Nigeria which had become an historic event of usual references in the nation and the Africa Continent.

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