What is Halloween?
First and foremost what is Halloween and why is it slowly creeping up in African culture? is it just the curved out pumpkin jack o lanterns? is it the costumes, and what do the costumes mean? Or is it the candy? Oh, that glorious candy! But no in fact Halloween or Hallowe’en, also known as Allhalloween, All Hallows’ Eve, or All Saints’ Eve, is a celebration observed in many countries on 31 October, the eve of the Western Christian feast of All Hallows’. The history of Halloween goes all the way back to a pagan festival called Samhain. The word “Halloween” comes from”All Hallows’ Eve” and means “hallowed evening.” Hundreds of years ago, people dressed up as saints and went door to door, which is the origin of Halloween costumes and trick-or-treating.
Pomp and fanfare as well as quiet reverence for the dead is ingrained in African culture and it has been for a long time here is a look at five festivals to celebrate that are similar to Halloween but with authentic African origins.
Egungun Festival- Nigeria
The Egungun festival is an annual celebration amongst the Yoruba groups found mainly in the South Western parts of Nigeria. The Egungun festival kicks off in November every year and ends in April before the annual rains set in. The festival is a celebration of the life of important personalities in society who have passed away during the year. ‘Egungun’ is a Yoruba word that refers to masqueraders that raid the street during the festival, dancing to the tune of expert drummers. It is believed that the masqueraders are chosen by the gods, who give them special powers of communicating with the dead and pleasing the ancestors. This means that not anyone can dress as a masquerader and indulge in the traditional dance during the Egungun festival.
The festival is marked to give assurance to the dead that they are remembered and still have a place in the land of the living. The festival can be a spectacle to witness as the Egungun are dressed in elaborate and colourful masks and costumes and dance to traditional Yoruba drumming and singing. The parade is led by the Chief Priest who invokes the spirits.
Fancy Dress festival- Ghana
The Junkanoo festival originates from Ghana in West Africa particularly among the Ahanta, Fanti and Akan people who call it the Fancy Dress Festival. In Ghana, the Fancy Dress festival is celebrated every year during Christmas and New Year season.
The festival has been likened to Halloween in recent times because of similarity in fancy outfits and costumes, but many cultural elements do not make it as similar to Halloween as expected. Started in 1709, the festival was held in honor of John Kenu ( known to Germans and Dutch as John Cani and to the British as John Conny) for defeating the Dutch who took control over the Ahanta land and sold its people into slavery. In this festival, the masqueraders are harmless and never attack but cause laughter and celebrations among the locals. Their hideous masks were made to depict the whites who for a long time had mocked the Black race. The festival also found its way into the Bahamas and parts of Jamaica in the same fashion and is marked without the tradition of disturbing Westerners. In the Bahamas, it is known as Junkanoo Festival, an adulteration of the name John Kenu.
Odo Festival- Nigeria
In Africa, it is popularly believed that the dead possess the power of rebirth and that they are neither gone nor forgotten, but stay with the living in a less physical form. The Odo festival of the Igbos in Nigeria demonstrate these African traditional beliefs. The festival starts in September and usually ends by April. The preparations for the festival involves heavy food preparation, usually done by the women, and sacrifices by the spiritual male leaders of every home. The Igbos believe that the dead rise again and spend six months with the living, usually appearing in the form of female and male masquerades. The masqueraders are usually men who belong to the Death Cult Society. Before the dead are welcomed into their former homes, they are welcomed back to earth with a masquerade parade with drumming and dancing.
There is usually more celebration during the six-month period when they enter their homes to eat, drink and catch up on things that have happened in their absence. At the end of the festival, they are led back to the land of the dead with mournful celebrations.
Courtesy of https://face2faceafrica.com/