Africa: Carnival Calabar, Local flavour mixed with foreign hue


For lovers of fun, music and dance, Calabar has become an every year’s place-to-go for almost 15 years. The carnival, initiated by the former governor of Cross River State, Mr. Donald Duke, is a legacy that the people of Cross River State have embraced wholeheartedly and subsequent regimes have also upheld with improvement.

The idea of the Carnival Calabar was first conceptualized in 2004, and the first edition was in 2005. Former Governor Donald Duke held two editions of the festival in 2005 and 2006. Senator Liyel Imoke, who ruled the state from 2007 to 2015 built the carnival to become and an international event and created the buzz and hype that made every body want to pack their bags in December and head for Calabar. Imoke’s desire to grow the carnival and attention to every aspect of the festival coupled with his wife, Mrs. Obioma Imoke’s passion and participation helped in pushing the carnival culture to the next level.

Governor Ben Ayade’s desire to also push the frontiers of the festival beyond the shores of Nigeria and permanently plant it as a global tourist event happening in Nigeria every December has made it an international carnival.

The international carnival has succeeded in putting Calabar on the global map as a kind of hub for culture and entertainment.

The 2017 edition had about 18 countries from Africa, America, Europe and Asia in attendance. Among these countries included the United States of America, Brazil, South Africa, Ukraine, France, Tanzania, Kenya, Ethiopia, Ghana, Senegal, France and many others. The artistes had opportunity to perform in a different culture.

The advantage of this new development is that visitors not only have the best of the carnival revelry in Africa, they also have the opportunity of having a spectrum of performances from and outside Africa. To see one of the best acrobatic displays from East Africa, one needed not go to Kenya; they were there live in Calabar holding the crowd spellbound with their display.

The Baikoko Dancers from Tanzania were also on display. Tweaking dance is said to be a fallout of the Baikoko dance. One of the Baikoko dancers told this reporter it was a new and pleasant experience being in Nigeria for the first time. She talked about the warmness of the people and the experience of tasting the Nigerian cuisines.

Last Carnival Calabar had huge participation with the number of visitors and crowd that came out to watch the carnival. It lived up to its reputation as Africa’s biggest street party. Calabar was shut down and there was revelry in nooks and crannies of the city. It continued till the next morning.

The next day was taken over by the international artistes who had a highly exciting performance in the J.T. Esuene Stadium, Calabar. The large crowd was treated to a variety of music and dance.

In a recent thank-you post written by Mr Ikechi Uko, Chief Consultant of Jedidah Promotions and the brains behind the logistics and planning of the Calabar Festival, we’ve read through many foreign nationals’ comments and expressions of what the Calabar Festival has unlurked in the way they saw and envisioned Africa.

Sharon Palacio, one of the Mexican contingents, had a pleasant story to also say: “This was a dream come true for the Mexican delegation along with my husband and I. It was quite an experience and adventure of a lifetime to set foot on the soil of the continent from which we originated. It remains an overwhelming life changing experience. The warm welcome at the airport by Paul touched our hearts.

“In Calabar, we were met at the airport by our outstanding and caring Chairman Gabe Onah and team. We cannot forget to mention the warm welcome by a team of tour guards to mention a few: Bassey, Joy, Samuel and Comfort along with dedicated and pleasant drivers. I spoke to the friendly media about our impressions every step on the way. We were escorted to our hotel VIP style. Our esteemed and distinguished Tourism Consultant Ikechi Uko and team went all out to make our trip comfortable and memorable.

Coordinating such a mega event can only be done by giants. Again, I say congratulations to the Calabar Commission.

“The cultural presentations were very impressive and educational to say the least. We now know the rich cultures and history of our people. Our continent is wealthy in natural resources, beauty, talent, intelligence cultural and family values. It was imperative that we missed nothing and we didn’t! The tour of the slave museum wasn’t a pleasant experience for most of us, even with what knowledge we had about slavery and the slave trade, but it was something we had to see because we carry the ( DNA) of our people who endured that horrific ordeal; for that we must all be very grateful. That however seems to be the general consensus within our group.

“Words cannot accurately describe how humbled we are by your warm reception and kind hospitality we received from you and your team. We certainly left the homeland with a wealth of knowledge that we will now pass on to our people here in Belize and Mexico. In the Americas, lamentably the media has done injustice to Africa. We are eternally grateful to the Calabar Commission for erasing our erroneous perceptions.

“I cannot express how happy I was with my African cultural immersion: the cuisine: yams, ripe plantains, fish, chicken and the way it was cooked. So delicious for the stomach of a Garifuna woman. How I love the African cotoure. The music remains with a beating sensation in my entire being deeply rooted in the seat of my soul that keeps me swaying my hips. What joy to embrace our very own black people.

“We are hoping to do this again in 2018. We definitely anticipate to lead a mixed Belizean, Mexican and Guatemalan team. We love our continent and our people. Thank you very very much.

“On a closing note, kindly convey our profound gratitude to Governor Ben Ayade and Chairman Gabe for such a priceless gift given to the Mexican-Belizean delegation. Both gentlemen understand the power of people connectivity. Indeed we are one people and as Chairman Gabe said when we first met at Calabar Airport: ‘Welcome home..welcome too the Motherland!’ Africa is our root and our mother earth indeed! We remain eternally grateful for the best gift ever!

“We applaud Ikechi Uko’s team, Cross River Tourism Board and all those who have made these events possible from the local organizing committee to those who stood at borders and airports to bring in everything.”
Despite the excitement and enthusiasm of the international artistes, it was a nightmare getting to Calabar due to the bad weather. Most international artistes had to get to Calabar via Uyo, but at the end, it was another very successful outing for the Carnival Calabar.

By: Okorie Uguru


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