Perhaps the FESTAC Could Save Our Desolate African Souls

From 15 January to 12 February 1977 the City of Lagos in Nigeria was the host of the FESTAC’77, aka Second World Black and African Festival of Arts and Culture. According to Dr. Joseph Okpaku, one of the organizers of the event and the General Editors of the 10-volumes encyclopedic compendium The Arts and Civilization of Black and African Peoples published by the Centre for Black and African Arts and Civilization (CBAAC) in Lagos the FESTAC’77 was “when Africa issued a clarion call for all Africans throughout the diaspora, to come home to invoke and celebrate Motherland, and mounted a historic Gathering of Tribes.” In his words, “FESTAC was the celebration of Africa, and the Colloquium on Black Civilization was the definition and theoretical underpinning of that dramatic assertion and introspection.”

On 14 February 1977 Jonathan Randall writing in The Washington Post described the event as:

“Still going strong after a month of nonstop activity, the Second World Black and African Festival of Arts and Culture (FESTAC) officially ended Saturday – but the memory is likely to linger on for years.”

According to Mwalimu J. Shujaa, Kenya J. Shujaa, the authors of The SAGE Encyclopedia of African Cultural Heritage in North America, “At the time it was held, it was the largest Pan-African gathering.”

With an extravagant display of African music, fine art, literature, drama, dance and religion to world, the FESTAC was a colossal event that brought together About 16,000 participants, representing 56 African nation and countries of the African Diaspora who performed on the occasion.

Stevie Wonder, Gilberto Gil (Brazilian singer, guitarist, and songwriter), Bembeya Jazz National (originally known as Orchestre de Beyla is a Guinean jazz group that gained fame in the 1960s for their Afropop rhythms), Mighty Sparrow (whose real name is Slinger Francisco and known as “King of the Calypso World” is a calypso singer, songwriter, and guitarist of Trinidadian citizenship) , Les Ballets Africains (Conakry based national dance company of Guinea), and Franco Luambo Makiadi (Congolese (present-day, DRC) known for his mastery of African Rumba, he was nicknamed the “Sorcerer of the Guitar” for his seemingly effortlessly fluid playing).

The Benin Pendant Mask (Royal Ivory Mask of Benin) was chosen as an emblem of the festival. The Ivory Mask is a small ivory mask worn around the waist or neck by the Oba at Benin that is often associated with Queen Idia, who was a powerful monarch during the early sixteenth century at the Benin (the then Dahomey) court in what is now Nigeria.

The Benin Pendant Mask

The celebration of the FESTAC inspired the establishment of the Nigerian National Council of Arts and Culture, Festac Village and the National Theatre, Iganmu, Lagos.

Tracing the origins of the FESTAC to the inception of ideas on Négritude and Pan-Africanism, Enahoro Ife wrote in his 1977 article entitled The Second World Black and African Festival of Arts and Culture: Lagos, Nigeria published in The Black Scholar journal, the third-oldest journal of black culture and political thought in the United States which was founded in 1969:

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

According to Babasehinde Augustine Ademuleya & Michael Olusegun Fajuyigbe the writers of an article dedicated to the FESTAC in the IOSR Journal of Humanities and Social Science entitled Pan-Africanism and the Black Festivals of Arts and Culture: Today’s Realities and Expectations, “Présence Africaine and the Society of African Culture were facilitators of two congresses” which Sylvia Moore wrote in her seminal book The Afro-Black Connection: FESTAC 77, “one in 1956 and the other in 1959, the forums were convened with the intention of promoting black culture and civilisation.”

Dr. Joseph Okpapu, Sr. distinctively and with a considerable erudition wrote in the Volume Six of the series entitled Black Civilization and Pedagogy:

“The effort and the process of search and articulation by all these African (in the larger sense) writers [in the The Arts and Civilization of Black and African Peoples series], has been simultaneously intellectual and passionate – yes passionate. This is significant. The very notion of passionate intellectualism, as opposed to the more familiar western presumption of intellectualism as dispassionate, is definitely and definitively African, and proudly so. It is as African as the concept of art as life itself, in contradistinction from the Euro-American (Anglo-Saxon) alternative.”

Cutting to the chases of this text, in the contemporary attempt to reclaim our stunned souls ambered in the vicious cupola of political correctness and professional ineptitude occasions like the FESTAC provide inspiration, an epiphany that could rekindle our desolate hopes.  Despite the unfortunate fact that people succumb to “festival’s jamboree aura, rather than its formal performances, exhibits and colloquia” in commemorations like this events like the FESTAC nonetheless remain to be the breeding ground for an impetus geared towards making sense of our history and present condition which actually are replete with state induced oblivion that takes the Orwellian dictate “Ignorance is strength.” and the catchy cliché “Ignorance is bliss.” too literally.  If the current generation is to be cured of its fear-induced oblivion that has reduced it to a figment of amnesia once and for all, it is important that events like the FESTAC be organized. Cultural jamborees like the FESTAC play the pivotal role of entertaining as well as informing the people of its proverbial “place in the sun.”

Our fragmented desperate efforts to relocate a missing part of our existential whole down the generations of storytellers and ages of “fear and trembling” should however address the imminent threats posed by the infectious phenomenon of pathological interpassivity especially among the intelligentsia and institutions of the state. It is high time that we come to know the fraudulence of what the cultural theorists and philosophers, the Slovene Slavoj Žižek and the German Robert Pfaller call “interpassivity”. In his 1998 journal article entitled Cyberspace, or, How to Traverse the Fantasy in the Age of the Retreat of the Big Other for the journal Public Culture, Žižek describes interpassivity as a term that “combines the words interactivity and passivity and denotes a state of passivity in the presence of the potential of interactivity.” After instituting an element of brutal yet genuine remembrance to our soul searching, the next major undertaking must be the proper diagnosis and treatment of the contagion in our very midst, interpassivity. In a situation where the opiate of the people remains to be interpassivity, there will be intellectuals who, to use Žižek’s words, “aren’t interested in activity – merely in ‘authentic’ experience.” Elucidating the concept of “interpassive socialism” among the leftists from the Prague Spring of 1968 onward in Czechoslovakia under Václav Havel, in his September 1999 London Review of Books (LRB) article entitled Attempts to Escape the Logic of Capitalism, Žižek wrote:

“These leftists aren’t interested in activity – merely in ‘authentic’ experience. They allow themselves to pursue their well-paid academic careers in the West, while using the idealised Other (Cuba, Nicaragua, Tito’s Yugoslavia) as the stuff of their ideological dreams: they dream through the Other, but turn their backs on it if it disturbs their complacency by abandoning socialism and opting for liberal capitalism.”

As can be inferred from Žižek’s intellectual memento, the very essence of Blackness and Africanness is in grave danger of vanishing when the incumbent vanguards of the cultural and artistic revolution in the field are dilettantes prone to ephemeral merriment who are too lazy to move a finger in the cause of their own existential edifice but are too busy babbling about the ‘progresses’ that are being made in too far places known as Europe and America, the very  “stuff of their ideological dreams” or rather their forgetful, delusional fantasies of what they might otherwise call “This is what I mean by heaven.”

Emphatically speaking, it is high time that the African folks wherever they are must commit their minds to the creation of colloquiums that are a blend of artistic entertainment and philosophical debates on their endangered existence. The weltschmerz among the Negro could only be cured through the institution of platforms that could offer the “opportunity for sound reflection on the situations and roles of Africans and peoples of African descent across the ages” but with a theatrical twist.

Putting our opportunistic faith in extremely Panglossian concepts of “African Renaissance” reduction ad absurdum, would only worsen our condition. Sensibly overcoming the daunting task of suturing the gaping wounds our inflicted selves requires us to traverse our collective as well as most intimate private fantasies vis-à-vis the apotheosis of our forefathers’ anamnestic undertakings such as the FESTAC’77. As the renowned French writer Marcel Proust wrote in his Remembrance of Things Past, “We don’t receive wisdom; we must discover it for ourselves after a journey that no one can take for us or spare us.” Perhaps, traversing our self-induced oblivion armed with the tools of passionate intellectualism and embarking on an exhaustive journey of self-discovery to search and rescue our vaporized and lampooned souls is the only antidote to cure our current ailment, the disease that made us worship the “glory” of the present, the munificence of the state, the wisdom of the Anglo-Saxon “sages” and the “beauty” of the mind of the mzungu. As the German politician Richard von Weizsaecker said once, “Seeking to forget makes exile all the longer; the secret of redemption lies in remembrance.”

Sleepwalking in ignorance might be the order of the day. Addicted to sleep we might have made ourselves into secret worshippers of it. It is a matter of time before the specter of this contagious ritual metastasizes. It is a matter of time till the line “Sleep is my lover now, my forgetting, my opiate, my oblivion” from Audrey Niffenegger’s book The Time Traveler’s Wife becomes the psalms of the worshippers of the newly discovered god called Oblivion.

As the Kenyan author Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o put it, beautifully and succinctly, warning us of the evils of not being able to recall the recollections of who we once were:

“Our lives are a battlefield on which is fought a continuous war between the forces that are pledged to confirm our humanity and those determined to dismantle it; those who strive to build a protective wall around it, and those who wish to pull it down; those who seek to mould it and those committed to breaking it up; those who aim to open our eyes, to make us see the light and look to tomorrow […] and those who wish to lull us into closing our eyes.”

Published by Hibamo Ayalew

Very recently I've come to the decision that I've to say what I've to say in ways I wanted to say irrespective of the "feelings" of the mediocre creatures out there crawling the earth in search of solace where there's none. Seeking wisdom in the Desert of the Real.

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