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Brief History of Pre-colonial Festivals In Africa

There are quite a handful of pre-colonial festivals in Africa countries which are still practised to date. Though history in Africa was told through oral methods it was accompanied with songs and dance. These festivals were usually used as a way of educating and entertaining people. While most of these festivals are educative, others served as a means to honour their gods. To begin with today's post we will share 5 of these festivals still celebrated across West African, East African and Central African countries;

5 Pre-colonial Festivals

  1. Ouidah Voodoo: This celebration takes place every 10th of January in the Republic of Benin. During this time, different delegates across voodoo communities come to pay their respects to the most powerful wizards. However it doesn't start there, it starts when the chief priest visits the temple, pays homage to the deities. Afterwards, a procession begins from the roads to the actual festival at the beach. Afterwards, sacrifices of chicken and goats are made to pay homage to the deities. In summary, voodoo is a mix of celebration and rituals which has nothing to do with the strange practices the media portrays.

Masquerade at the Ouidah Voodoo festival. Photo credit BBC

  1. Gbagaba Festival is one of those non-educational celebrations that occur regularly in August in Togo. Every year, people from different sub-communities in Togo come together to sing, chant and celebrate for 2-3 days. This festival signifies certain circumstances such as; the end of the farming season, worshipping the deities and lastly celebrating the beginning of the rest period.
  1. Gule Wamkulu: This is a secret cult involving a ritual dance practised in Malawi, Zambia and Mozambique. It celebrates the initiation of young men into adulthood. In addition, it is a perfect harmony of rituals, rhythms and dance with specific facial expressions. This celebration aims to tell stories of the repercussions of evil to the rest of the tribe by members of the Nyau brotherhood, in particular, it is a way to teach moral and social values.

4. Mombasa Carnival: Mombasa is the second-largest city in Kenya with rich        multicultural diversity! The Mombasa carnival takes place every November and lasts for three days. Stalls with different local delicacies and local drinks will open, townsfolks dressed in traditional clothes will dance to the bands pumping the atmosphere with energetic music. This refreshing celebration introduces East Africa in a contemporary energetic way. 

Mombasa Carnival. Photo credit travelstart blog

  1.  The Guerewol: This is a traditional ritual that lasts a week and occurs every September by the Fulani people of Niger, Chad. These young men would dress elaborately with ornaments and made to sing and dance a special dance (called Yaake) for the seven days in a bid to win the hearts of the young women. The suitor's had their strength determined by various forms of competitions. In this case, it is simplified as a male beauty pageant, the African edition.

A man dressed for 'The Guerewol' Photo Credit Rezdy

The pre-colonial Africa functioning society had their folktales, rituals and celebrations well-rooted in orality and dramatic expression. To understand the diversity and deeper meaning that these pre-colonial festivals are, viewers must open their minds to the context of these pre-colonial festivals. The African people found little to no reasons to constantly celebrate life in grand ways. The most integral part of being an African is celebrating, it is a part of our identity.

Njinga of Ndongo and Matamba - Unit of Study


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