Visiting the Lagos Black Heritage Festival

by Ronke Adebiyi

Brazil has had a unique position as the pivotal cultural melting-pot of the New World, taking indigenous influences from immigration. Like the USA, it wasn’t only voluntary immigrants who provided a great part of the cultural backbone of the country; this diversity is also a result of the abhorrent practices of slavery, used by the Portuguese at the beginning of the 16th Century.

The influence of the Yoruba people of Nigeria still remains a significant part of Brazilian culture. More than a third of Afro-Brazilians have Yoruba ancestry and this comes out, not only in cuisine and linguistics, but also notably in its religious practices. For instance, the Candomble’ temples (of an African religion) are still widely frequented in the country, and its rituals form an important part of people’s daily life.

The music of Brazil also has notable African elements; these cultural elements create an inextricable bond between the Yoruba people and the people of Bahia and other parts of Brazil.

The 2013 “Black in the Mediterranean Blue” event, part of the Lagos Black Heritage Festival in Nigeria, will celebrate that strong cultural bond between Brazil and the people of Nigeria. This year’s festival will be themed around a “Bring Back Brazil” concept, and with Professor Wole Soyinka, winner of the 1986 Nobel Prize for literature and first African winner of the prize, as Festival coordinator, it will showcase much of the contemporary and traditional dances, art, music, exhibitions, and dramas that highlight the reciprocal influences between Nigeria and Brazil.

During a conference at Freedom Park in Lagos, Professor Soyinka briefly outlined the festival’s intentions, which is primarily to educate current youths on the importance of Nigerian cultures in Brazil.

“Our children do not understand why we have people who practice Nigerian cultures in Brazil; all they know is that in Brazil they have blacks who are descendants of slaves from Nigeria. They are astonished to see traditions of the Yoruba on streets of places such as Salvador during carnivals”

Since most are unaware of the pivotal importance of Nigeria, and subsequently Yoruba cultures in Brazil, this series of activities will serve both to educate and entertain.

The Lagos Black Heritage Festival has always provided ample scope for enriching lives, educating audiences and preserving cultural traditions. This year’s incarnation of the festival offers even more opportunity, since Brazil preserves Yoruba traditions with an unparalleled passion. This is not typical of cultural traditions which are assimilated, yet it is an enthusiasm which has to be experienced.

HRH Erelu Dosumu Fernandez, this year’s festival host, spoke of how the Yoruba cultural influences are dominant in Brazil. She showed great passion regarding this year’s events, and spoke about how the very title of the festival inspires love, peace and celebration. She also mentioned how Brazilians adhere to Yoruba traditions rather more strictly than Nigerians themselves, and how this festival may go some way into preserving these important cultural traditions.

In light of the Festival’s initial difficulty in finding adequate sponsorship for the event, invaluable help was provided by Trico Capital International, a specialist financial advisory practice who are also providing the financial expertise for the Lagos Cable Car Transit Project. It’s CEO, Austine Ometoruwa, although usually focused on developing infrastructure projects in West Africa has been able to use his considerable experience to help support the Festival.

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