Eccentric wild dancing of antelopes, hares, alligators, ducks, monkeys, snakes, turtles. Hypnotizing, beguiling rhythms. Exuberant, vivid colors. Blazing sun and scorching air. A world of transcendence or another dimension.
This is the International Festival of Masks and Arts (Festival International des Masques et des Arts), more known as Festima.
Probably when you hear the word “mask”, you automatically think of the Carnevale di Venezia, but it is not right to compare these equally unique events. Festima has its own charm and wild vibes. It is the biggest one-of-a-kind celebration of old-century African traditions and culture.
If in Venice, you can imagine yourself a princess at a fancy ball, at Festima you are a part of a mysterious and astonishing ritual to honor spirits in the form of performance of bizarre dancing masks.
History of Festima Festival and African Masks
To understand what Festima is, first of all, you should learn about the history of the festival. The mask is an eternal part of fAfrican culture. For countless years mask making and dancing have been part of funerals, wedding ceremonies, crop harvesting and a host of other rituals.
Dancing in masks, people ask spirits for rain, for health, rich harvest, they ask for a blessing. Locals do believe that spirits of ancestors guide and protect people and control nature. Festima appeared as the result of people’s desire to preserve the ancient mask-making tradition as opposed to the rapidly developing world that dictates its rules.
While surfing the Internet, chatting on Facebook and posting zillions of meaningless photos, people forget about something essential – our culture and traditions. That is why in 1996 students in Burkino Faso were inspired to create Festima, as a way for artisans and dancers to get together and revitalize African traditions that were jeopardized and are still in danger of disappearing.
They also formed the Association for the Protection of Masks. Therefore Festima grew significantly and began to attract myriads of people. At the beginning this event was mostly visited by people from Western Afrika, now it is swarmed by thousands of tourists.
Highlights of Festima Festival
The International Festival of Masks and Arts is held every two years, in 2020 it takes place in Dédougou, Burkina Faso from the 27th of February to the 6rd of March.
Traditionally festival starts with the frantic parade of dancing masks. Numerous troupes from Burkina Faso, The Ivory Coast, Benin, Gambia, Togo, Senegal, and Mali come to participate in this event.
During this procession the city becomes an epicenter of rhythmic, indigenous afrobeats and dancers clad in huge wooden masks and elaborate costumes, made of feathers, straw, and bark. It looks like the mask controls the mind of a dancer and moves his body as it wishes.
Some spectators say that participants are in trance, others claim that during the parade dancers are just the vessels for spirits. What is going on during that time, can’t be compared to any other event in the world.
The energy of the festival will send a chill up your spine and from the very first minute till the last, you will not take your eyes off this magnetic show of masks. When the parade is finished, and the participants leave the stage, it doesn’t mean that it is the end of the festival. Troupes continue drumming and dancing through the streets of Dédougou.
Also, Festima includes “cabaret nights” during which the eloquence of various “griots” (storytellers) is tested in front of the vigorous audience.
Another highlight of the International Festival of Masks and Arts is the “market of the communities”, where you can find an excellent authentic souvenir. Craftsmen sell woven baskets, beaded jewelry, traditional clothes, and of course colorful wooden masks.
Then, how without tasting some local cuisine? It is a must for every self-respecting traveler. Take a bite of some lush dishes like “kedjenou” ( piquant slowly-cooked stewed chicken with tomatoes and peppers).
But first of all you should try “poulet on the bicyclette”, which means chicken on the bicycle. It is a grilled wild chicken and one of the most popular dishes in the region. Speaking of drinks, you can quench your thirst with ginger juice or a sweet cold drink, called “bissap”.
To continue the dancing festivity, you should join a night party. Just follow the crowd and bust a groove to the beat. However, naturally you can carouse and party whole night, but it is recommended not to abuse alcohol too much if you want to get home safe and meet the new day without a hangover.
Important Things To Know Before Visiting Festima
In the end, not very pleasant, but important information for you. Please, keep in mind that the festival is held not in the country from the top 10 of the safest countries. Check the news about West Africa, if you don’t want to appear in the hotbed of epidemy.
Going to the festival, make sure to take preventative measures against such mosquito-borne diseases like malaria and dengue fever in order to elude unexpected problems, relish the exquisite African traditions to the fullest and get only good memories.
But despite some not inspiring facts mentioned above, it is not fair to avoid one of the most fascinating mask festivals in the world. If there are some circumstances that don’t contribute to a safe vacation in West Africa in 2018, visit the International Festival of Masks and Arts festival next time, but visit, as it is WORTH visiting!
People in Dédougou are always happy to welcome new visitors, to share their culture with other people. This festival is made to get you out from your laptop, to remind you that you are a part of Real world with Real people, its culture, and traditions.