Calabar Carnival, as it is called, is a unique display of African heritage, showcased through music, dance, drama and visual creativity,which is reflected in the design of floats, costumes and make-up. EDEM EDEM writes about the 32-day event that holds the serene city of Calabar spell-bound. (Article: Edem Edem)


For 32 days, Calabar, the Cross River State capital will witness exciting cultural events and colourful activities that usually attract millions of people all over the world. Since inception, this festival, which has become one of the biggest tourism and leisure attractions in West Africa, has grown tremendously in popularity and scope.

Over the past years, the Cross River State government has used this carnival to drive its tourism sector and provide exposure for its citizens, as well as develop its vast tourism sites and infrastructure such as the Obudu Ranch Resort, the Tinapa Business Resort, Marina Resort.

The festival commenced with a tree-lighting ceremony on November 30 at the Millennium Park, Calabar and will end with a thanksgiving ceremony on January 1 of the succeeding year.

Usually, musical concerts that feature renowned national and international artistes are used to make the carnival very attractive. People like the late Lucky Dube, Joe, Alpha Blondy, Hugh Masekela, Oliver Mtukudzi, Akon, Kirk Franklin, Donnie McClurkin, Chevelle Franklyn, Fat Joe, NeYo, Asa, D'banj had at one time or the other graced the event with their rhythms and lyrics.

Other attractions of the festival include awareness campaign and seminars on contemporary issues of global concern, children's Christmas camp, theatre performances, vocational training for youths, fashion and food fair, a weekend at the Obudu Mountain Resort to celebrate Africa, and so many other side attractions. Of course there is usually a two-day carnival to spice up the season.

Despite the fun and relaxed atmosphere around the carnival, a great degree of thought, creativity and discipline goes into the interpretation of the carnival theme under a strict adjudication process. The result is pure magic - an outpouring of colour, sound and spectacle, unmatched by anything else on the continent.

The carnival features 5 major competing bands and many others. major bands comprise of approximately 10,000 revelers each, including up to five kings and queens wearing large scale costumes that interpret the annual theme and set the tone for the other outfits.

Sections of these costumed revelers create a riot of colour and sparkle, accompanied by live music, DJs, well-decorated floats and steel bands. The carnival parade terminates at the U. J. Esuene Stadium which is the final adjudication and end point of the competition for the 'Band of the Year' in various categories. This competition attracts an additional 15,000 seated spectators and 10,000 others in and around the stadium, as well as 50 million TV viewers.

Governor Liyel Imoke of Cross River State unveiled the theme for the year: "Endless Possibilities" during a ceremony tagged, "A Glimpse of Destination, Cross River." He described as "tedious and tasking, the process of finding a suitable theme for the carnival because it is more than dancing and costuming as the latest does not reflect the previous ones."

Each of the five carnival bands are guided by the theme and expected to work hard to interpret them into dance, float and costume as they affect the people and the future.This year's festival is well-packaged and better than the previous editions as it is driven by the visions shown a few years ago.

The Calabar Festival was initiated by the immediate past governor of the state, Mr. Donald Duke. Unveiling the ceremony was only a tip of the iceberg as more await those that intend to visit Cross River State this December.

All things being equal, business booms as the Calabar festival village begins. For revelers and fun seekers in the country, there can be no better place to be in this yuletide season than the Cross River State capital, especially with the opening of the festival village at the cultural centre complex. The festival village, strategically located at the middle of town at the moment, is the hub of economic activities and revelry and the perfect place to relax, socialise and have a good time.

Youths in particular stand to benefit from the festival as there are programmes aimed at training interested youths in various aspects of events production, management and entertainment. According to him, the festival committee worked round the clock to ensure that visitors to the serene city of Calabar during this period go away with a full sense of satisfaction.

New activities have been introduced, such as the Calabar Water Carnival-a boat regatta that would showcase the state's rich culture on water, a food fair, which will also bring to the fore the state's cuisine, the governor's masked ball, a unique charity event and a host of other fascinating programmes.

"The festival is a compendium of activities with diverse scope and content, which we try to improve on every year," Ogbe concluded, adding, "With new initiatives introduced this year and a strong committee, I can say we are going places and reaching for the higher height."

However, due to reports of persistent stealing of handbags, snatching of GSM Phones, raping of innocent women and other atrocities perpetrated during Christmas festivals in the state, the Cross River State government has reeled out rules for Calabar Festival.

Government had warned spectators and participants at the festival not to attend the various ceremonies with their handbags or any other bag, noting that the safety and comfort of participants were paramount to the government.

The statement made available to LEADERSHIP WEEKEND said, "Spectators are advised not to come with handbags or any other bag to the venue of the festival events. Your safety and comfort is our topmost concern. Enjoy the Calabar Festival peacefully. The statement added, "The general public is hereby advised to note that the Calabar Festival stadium entrance, through the Naval Base, is strictly for holders of paid tickets."

Other spectators to grace the event at the stadium who are not paying are advised to use the entrances through the Murtala Muhammed highway as well as the IBB Way, with their destinations clearly marked on them.

Interestingly, Governor Liyel Imoke expressed happiness over the number of private sponsors the festival has attracted, including Nigeria's top brands, First Bank, Guinness and Dangote Group.

On the security of tourists in the face of the current situation in the country, the governor said he would not take anything for granted as effort is being intensified to revamp the Emergency Response Centre and reposition it for quicker response while 20 independent special security squad is to be strategically located at various points in the state to check any breach of peace.

Answering questions on why the festival is allowed into the night, he said the initiative was deliberate because that is the right period for the sponsors to get value for their investment as many people would be glued to their television sets.

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