By Olawale Adeoti
Eyo is unarguably the biggest cultural festival in Lagos . To say that Lagosians relish the annual festival is to say the obvious. But this week, bigger cultural festival is currently holding in Lagos .Â The festival is taking on international dimension and so the focus of cultural minded people around the world which presently be shifted to Lagos as it hosts the Black Heritage Festival.
This is the third time the festival is holding. Incidental, the maiden edition of the festival was first staged in Lagos in 2001. The second edition held in 2002. But the 2010 edition promises to be glamorous as judging from the preparation, programmes of event and publicity given to the festival by Lagos State government is leaving no stone unturned.
The bigness of Black Heritage could be gleaned from other world black festivals like Root Festival, which holds in The Gambia and Pan Africa Festival PANAFEST in Ghana . These celebrations, over the years, have grown to big cultural tourism events, attracting massive following from across the globe.
A run through the events shows a very rich cultural celebration of a race callously violated through an obnoxious trade called Trans Atlantic Slave trade. For over three centuries that the trade lasted, more than eleven million blacks were shipped to Europe and America.
These important men and women of African descent were taken to Europe and the New World through ports marshaled by these European masters. A lot of these slave ports existed in West Africa but some stood out. These were: Goree Island ( Senegal ), Whydah ( Benin Republic ), Elmina ( Ghana ) and Badagry ( Nigeria ).
And when the trade was abolished, a large number of the librated slaves were scattered across America and the Caribbean . It was in fulfilment of this yearning for the healing of dislocated sense of identity that the Lagos State government instituted, with the support of the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO).
To mark the celebration and reunification with their brothers and sister in Africa, they converged at different time and places to celebrate and reunite. All these festivals are therefore meant to bring back to memory, their lost roots, broken culture, corrupt tradition and stolen heritage.
Interestingly, no venue is better than the Badagry, Lagos for this yearâ€™s festival. By the choice of Lagos and Badagry as venue, it shows that the Lagos State government is thinking. Badagry, according to history, ran the most notorious slave market during the inhuman trade.
For the successful hosting of the festival, Lagos State Government has earmarked the sum of N100 million for the event, which is being graced by no fewer than 500 blacks from different parts of the world, including Europe, the Caribbean and the America continent.
According to the General Manager of Lagos State Waterfront and Tourism Development Corporation (LSWTDC), Engr. Hakeem Gbajabiamila, the festival aims at bringing back the victims of slavery and slave trade to their roots.
The festival, it was gathered, also aims at furthering the slave root projects initiated by the UNESCO. The Heritage festival, as Lagos State government intends, â€œwill also strife to fulfil on our part the commitment of a people of common descent, to the realisation of the hope and desires of our African brothers and sisters in Diaspora to be re-integrated into the roots.â€
And Badagry was chosen as the centre of the festival because of significant role as a major slave port as well as its heritage as host of major historical relics, such as the first storey building and other articles associated with the slave trade, in the country.
The theme of this yearâ€™s festival is best captured by the coordinator of festival, the Nobel Laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka, who described it as â€œA festival of Reconnection, Revaluation, Revindication â€“ this is the feast that Lagos State plans to serve up to the discerning palates from within the country, the continent and The Diaspora of the Caribbean and the Americans.â€™â€™
And to realise this theme so as to accomplish the fundamentals of the festival, the organisers lined up series of tradition programmes such dance, music, drama and art exhibition among the rest. Even in a celebration by the living, the dead take prominent position. The kernel of the truism of this position could be found in a process called Fitila Procession.
Fitila in Yoruba means lamp, the tradition.
This procession is one of the vital programmes of the festival. It is a day of contemplation dedicated to the memory of those who left these shores, never to return. Their spirits will be evoked and placated through a solemn procession with invocations.
Then, the organisers will celebrate there illustrious sons of the black continent.
They are Aime Cesaire, Aliqune Diop and Leopold Sedar Senghor. Cesaire, a renowned poet, dramatist, cultural activist and pan â€“ Africanist, along with Senghor, promoted the Black race through the Negritude and Beingness of Black philosophy. Cesaireâ€™s plays would also be on the stage during the festival.
The significance of hosting this festival is hydra-headed. For a continent which needs total re-orientation in all its human facets, the festival could not have come at a better time.
And for a government like Lagos which service is people-centred, the festival will boast is another morale booster that it is truly thinking about and promoting its people.
Lagos is now a mirror through wish the country could be viewed. This is a plus for Nigeria as the world we now know that the country is not about violence in the Niger Delta or sectarian violence in across the country.
The question of hosting therefore comes to the fore. Last year, when Lagos State was among the host cities of the 2009 FIFA Under-17 World Cup and it no doubt put up superlative performance and subsequently got FIFA commendation.