The 5th Edition of the El Gouna Film Festival

El Gouna Film Festival Logo

This week has been the week of film festivals on the continent. Few thousands of kilometers from Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, at El Gouna in Egypt on a resort on the shores of the Red Sea, another film festival is taking place. It is the El Gouna Film Festival which started in 2017. It is an annual event, which has been running since October 14th, and will end today, October 22nd. Just like the FESPACO, it has seen some adjustments due to the pandemic. The focus of the El Gouna Film Festival is more on movies from North Africa, and the Middle East like Costa Brava, the Sea Ahead, and the Blue Inmates from Lebanon, Feathers, Amira, Captains of Za’atari, Full Moon from Egypt, and countless others. The festival also offers movies from Europe: Norway, Sweden, France, and many others. The only commonality with the FESPACO this year is the presence of the movie Feathers by the Egyptian director Omar El Zohairy. Enjoy!

Below is the introduction found on the website El Gouna Film Festival

Known for being the cultural hub of the Middle East and Africa, Egypt has long been considered a pioneer within the realm of cinema and filmmaking. Serving as an intersection for civilizations from East to West, Egypt’s position has fueled its leadership in filmmaking, and has opened doors for some of the best international films to enter the region. This makes Egypt a prime choice to host the top creative minds and provide them with a platform for cultural exchange.

FESPACO 2021: One of Africa’s Biggest Film Festival is back!

FESPACO official logo for 2021

The African film festival, FESPACO, is back this year after the pandemic, the lockdowns of the past year and half, and an 8-months delay (the biennial event was originally scheduled for February 27 – March 6, but had to be postponed because of the Coronavirus pandemic). It is back in Ouagadougou amidst the health situation and also the security issues that have surfaced in the Sahel region, and particularly in Burkina Faso, in the past few years.

The Festival Panafricain du cinema et de la television de Ouagadougou (FESPACO) is the Panafrican Film and Television Festival of Ouagadougou, which happens to be the largest African film festival. It is held biennially in Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso. First established in 1969, and boasting some of Africa’s greatest writers and filmmakers (like Ousmane Sembene), the FESPACO offers a chance for African filmmakers and professionals to showcase their work, exchange ideas, and meet other filmmakers, and sponsors.

This year’s FESPACO started on October 16th and will end on October 23rd. It promises to be great with filmmakers from around the continent coming to Ouagadougou to celebrate African cinema. After over a year of confinement, with life and particularly travel almost coming to a grinding stop, the festival promises to bring some much needed entertainment and joy.

Golden Stallion of Yennenga
The Golden Stallion of Yennenga

Over 200 films made by Africans and mainly produced in Africa have been selected for the week-long event. The official selection will see 17 feature-length films compete for the festival’s top prize, the Golden Stallion of Yennenga.

Among them is Burkinabe Boubacar Diallo’s comedy Les Trois Lascars (The Three Lascars), Chadian Mahamat Saleh Haroun with Lingui, les liens sacrés (Lingui, the sacred links), Congolese Dieudo Hamadi with documentary En route pour le milliard (On the road for the billion), Ivorian Philippe Lacôte with his much appreciated La nuit des rois (The night of the kings), Senegalese Aissa Maiga with Marcher sur l’eau (Walking on water), Algerian Hassane Mezine with Fanon hier, aujourd’hui (Fanon yesterday, today), Tunisian Leyla Bouziz with Une histoire d’amour et de desir (a story of love and desire), Cameroonian Narcisse Wandji with Bendskins (Moto-taxis), Namibian  Desiree Kahikopo-Meiffret with The White Line, Tanzanian Ekwa Msangi with Farewell Amor, …  It will be impossible to list here all that the festival has to offer, but know that it is quite extensive and everybody will have its fill. Enjoy FESPACO 2021!!!

The 2 Congos Seek to have the Rumba Recognized as a World Treasure

Putumayo cover of African Rumba disc (Source: Putumayo)

There is no doubt that the Rumba has gone global, or that it has influenced other musical types throughout the world. To those who do not know, Rumba is a music style that originates from Kongo … and here I mean the whole area that is encompassed by both Congos, the Republic of the Congo and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), and in the olden days it was even bigger including areas of Angola, Central African Republic and Gabon. The rumba was born in Cuba from the enslaved Africans who had been taken there from the Kongo.

Flag of the Republic of Congo

Today, authorities in both Kinshasa and Brazzaville, the capitals of the DRC and the Republic of Congo, have submitted a joint bid to add Congolese Rumba to the UNESCO list of Intangible Cultural Heritage. Don’t you wish both countries could join together more often on other topics as well?

Flag of the Democratic Republic of Congo

The submission will help showcase the diversity of the heritage and raise awareness about its importance. If Congolese rumba were to be added, it would join the Budima dance of Zambia, hawker food of Singapore, sauna culture of Finland, handmade weaving in Upper Egypt, traditional pomegranate festivity and culture of Azerbaidjan, Traditional Thai massage, and traditional irrigation systems in the United Arab Emirates, among countless other customs on the list.

Papa Wemba, the king of Congolese Rumba, on his cover of Emotion

The word Rumba derives from “nkumba,” meaning belly button in the local Kikongo language, a dance originating in the ancient kingdom of Kongo.

The music style was born of the melting pot of 19th century Cuba, from the enslaved Africans, combining their drumming and dancing with their melodies and those of the Spanish colonizers. The African slaves who were taken to the Americas created the rumba as a way to stay connected to their inner beings, their histories, cultures, and probably also as a way to escape the daily grind of slavery, the inhumane practice that ripped them of their dignity of human beings.

It was re-exported to Africa in the early 20th century on vinyl, where it found a ready audience in the two Congos who recognized the rhythms as their own.

Catherine Kathungu Furaha, the DRC’s minister of art and culture, said, “when our ancestors who were taken abroad wanted to remember their history, their origin, their memory, they danced the navel dance.”… “We want rumba to be recognized as ours. It is our identity.”

Cuban rumba has been inscribed in the UNESCO list of Intangible Cultural Heritage since 2016. It only makes sense that its counterpart, the mother-source, the origin, the Congolese Rumba be inscribed in the list as well. We will know in November when the committee will decide.

The Ethiopian Festival of the True Cross or Meskel

Ethiopian religious leaders carrying crosses during the Meskel celebration (Ethiopiaonlinevisa.com)

September 27th this year marks another big Ethiopian celebration. An even bigger festival than Enkutatash the Ethiopian New Year, is the Meskel “True Cross” Celebration which takes place on September 27th or 28th in leap year. Meskel 2021 is on September 27th . The festival commemorates the discovery of the “True Cross” on which Jesus was crucified, and is held annually in Meskel Square in Addis Ababa.

The word “meskel” is from the Ge’ez language which translates to “cross.” The festival is basically a celebration of the finding of the cross. The festival is held at the iconic Meskel square in Addis Ababa and draws out a large number of religious and civil leaders as well as public figures and Christian faithful. Meskel has been celebrated in Ethiopia for more than 1,600 years as an outdoor religious festival and has been registered at UNESCO since December 2013 as an Intangible World Heritage.

Meskel celebration in Addis Ababa (Source: Wikipedia)

The legend goes that in 4BC, the Roman Empress Helena (Queen Eleni) was able to locate the important artifact in Jerusalem by using the smoke from a huge fire. The celebration is especially important to Ethiopians as it is alleged that a piece of the cross Helena discovered was brought to Ethiopia, and hidden away somewhere in the mountains of  Amba Geshen, which itself has a cross-shaped plan.

Ethiopians commemorate the find by building their own massive bonfire, the Meskel, which they decorate with yellow flowers known as Adey Abeba before burning. Ethiopia’s religious leaders lead colorful processions and prayer around the fire, and attendees intently watch to see which way the bonfire will collapse, as it is believed to predict the future.

As you can see, the month of September is a month of cultural and religious celebrations in Ethiopia.

Benin Bronzes: Horniman Museum to consider returning looted artefacts

Benin City Bronzes at Horniman Museum (Source: Horniman Museum)

Yet another one! Isn’t it odd that there seems to be an avalanche of “proposals” to return looted artifacts? Is it real? Are these museums really going to relinquish these artifacts? or is it just a publicity stunt? Excerpts below are from an article on the BBC website. The article dates from April, but it is still worth mentioning. Enjoy!

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A London museum will consider [seriously?] returning artefacts obtained by “colonial violence” – including Benin Bronzes – to their countries of origin.

Collections at the Horniman Museum in Forest Hill include plaques, figures and ceremonial items taken from the Kingdom of Benin in 1897 [Benin City: the Majestic City the British burnt to the ground].

The decision follows a consultation with London’s Nigerian community.

There has also been mounting political pressure for the return of objects taken in the 19th Century.

Since 2017the Benin Dialogue Group, which brings together the current Oba (state leader of Edo), the Nigerian government and museums across Europe, has been working on a plan for some Benin Bronzes to return to Nigeria. If returned, Nigeria plans to house repatriated bronzes in the Edo Museum of West African Art set to open in 2025.

Campaign group Topple the Racists recently added the Horniman to an interactive map detailing the statues in the UK that have links to colonialism.

The Horniman’s collection includes 15 Benin Bronze plaques depicting Obas (kings) and legendary figures, a brass cockerel called an Ebon which would be placed on the altar of a dead Lyoba (queen mother), and a ceremonial paddle called an Ovbevbe used by priests to ward off evil.

A brass bell, typical of those worn around the necks of Benin’s warriors, is also in the collection, along with an ivory staff of office.

National Museum of Ireland forges plan to return looted Benin bronzes

Queen from Benin kingdom
Queen from Benin kingdom, exposed at the MET

The National Museum of Ireland has now forged plans to return the looted Benin bronzes. I hope their plans actually take form! Wen I hear of all these museums planning to return all these African artifacts, I cannot help but notice that the loot was a general or rather an international concerted affair… remember how we always hear about the international community? As you can see the distribution of the loot, in the case at hand, that of Benin City (Benin City: the Majestic City the British burnt to the ground), was done among all those European countries! This brings shivers! Moreover, when I see this, I cannot help but wonder why these museums are now so conscientious and are all talking about repatriation of these bronzes, particularly when these looted artifacts have generated millions upon millions of euros each year to their museums as part of tourism. Why will they be so happy to forfeit millions of euros in revenues for our poor African souls who not long ago were deemed too backward to take care of our very own artifacts? Also, with 3D printing being so ‘hip’ these days, I wonder if Africans will be getting the original artifacts? How will we know? Enjoy! Excerpts below are from the Sunday Times.

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The National Museum of Ireland (NMI) intends to return 21 historical artefacts looted from Nigeria in the 1890s. The Benin bronzes, which were stolen by British soldiers, have been the subject of renewed focus in recent months, with growing pressure on cultural institutions to return them.

While there is no formal plan for when the Benin bronzes will be returned, the NMI said it was committed to progressing “a restitution process” for the artefacts.

African Bird: The Bronzy Sunbird (Souimanga Bronzé)

I just found another species of birds in my mother’s garden. It is called the Souimanga in Malagasy which has been adopted as its name in French, or simply sunbird in English. In the case at hand, it is the Souimanga bronzé or bronzy sunbird known by its scientific name as Nectarinia kilimensis; it is very close to the Souimanga de Mariqua or Marico sunbird. It is native of Sub-Saharan Africa. Its coat is quite shiny and irridescent. Its flight is quick, similar to the American hummingbird. As you can see, this pretty visitor has a shiny green coat sparsed with black, and a red underbelly; it feeds on flower nectar. The shiny metallic color indicates that our visitor is a male. Enjoy!

When Benin City was Compared to Amsterdam, and much Bigger …

Benin City in 1897
Benin City in 1897

In the 15th century, a Dutch traveler visited the great Benin City, in West Africa, located in modern-day Nigeria, in Edo State. This man was visibly stunned by the beauty and the discipline of the people he met. The city he talks about, Benin City, was so much bigger than Amsterdam, the Dutch capital… and so much cleaner… As you read, please note the wealth of the Benin Kingdom, the well-ordered hierarchy, and lastly note the pride and discipline of the people of Benin City. Also note the mention of the great renowned Benin bronzed sculpting on the pillars. No wonder the British could not help but loot the city [Benin City: the Majestic City the British burnt to the ground] because greed and jealousy had the better of them. Below is his account:

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The town seems to be very great. When you enter into it, you go into a great broad street, not paved, which seems to be seven or eight times broader than the Warmoes street in Amsterdam….

Benin City around 1600
Benin City around 1600

The king’s palace is a collection of buildings which occupy as much space as the town of Harlem, and which is enclosed with walls. There are numerous apartments for the Prince’s ministers and fine galleries, most of which are as big as those on the Exchange at Amsterdam. They are supported by wooden pillars encased with copper, where their victories are depicted, and which are carefully kept very clean.

The town is composed of thirty main streets, very straight and 120 feet wide, apart from an infinity of small intersecting streets. The houses are close to one another, arranged in good order. These people are in no way inferior to the Dutch as regards cleanliness; they wash and scrub their houses so well that they are polished and shining like a looking-glass.”

Source: “How Europe under-developed Africa,” by Walter Rodney, Howard Univ. Press, 1981, p. 69

 

The Alok Ikom Stone Monoliths of Nigeria and Cameroon

Monolith in Western Cameroon: notice the designs around the eyes and the body, and the ring on the head, could it be a crown or hat?

Today we will talk about the Alok Ikom stone monoliths of Nigeria and Cameroon. I told you on Monday that the US customs recently seized a few of these coming from Cameroon. Many years ago, I was quite fortunate to stumble upon these treasures which date as far back as 200 AD. At the time, even though I knew I was looking at something special, I did not realize (insouciance of youth?) that I was in front of relics of some ancient civilization of Central Africa. Fast forward many years, and I now just learn that they are on the UNESCO World Heritage Tentative List.

The Ikom or Alok Ikom monoliths are about 300 upright carved stones, arranged in perfect circles usually facing each other and standing erect, except in cases where they have been tampered with by weather, time, erosion, or man. These carved stones are found in the Ikom area of Eastern Nigeria in the Cross River state, and in some areas of Western Cameroon. They are thought to be at least 1500 years old.

Monolith in Western Cameroon

Often found in the center of villages or central meeting place of elders, or in sacred areas, researchers initially counted about 450 in Eastern Nigeria, but now because of diverse issues, only about 300 can be found. They vary in height, from 1 to 2 meters. Given that parts of Eastern Nigeria and Western Cameroon’s soils are volcanic, it is not surprising that the monoliths are mostly carved out of basaltic stone and in some cases out of sandstone or shelly limestone. On these stones are carved images and texts which to this day have not been deciphered. For many, these prehistoric carvings are a form of writing and visual communication.

Monolith in Western Cameroon: notice the motifs

Some of the carvings form complex geometric motifs. The carvings have anthropomorphic features and depict a human being from the torso up, with a big emphasis placed on the face; in some of the stones, one can pick out the navel. At the time I saw these, I was told that the monoliths represented the ancestors, and they were 12 of them arranged in a circle. If I could travel back in time, there is so much I would ask about these monoliths: who made these? what was the purpose? Why the circular arrangement? what is the meaning of the intricate motifs? and more importantly which civilization is this? One thing is for sure, from the features, it was definitely a Black civilization! Enjoy!

Monolith in Western Cameroon: notice the intricacies of the design. This one almost looks feminine?

Please check out the British Museum website which provides extensive work on the Ikom monoliths of Cross River state (the B.M. of course holds one of these in house), the World Monument Fund, the Factum Foundation, and the UNESCO World Heritage Tentative List. Please also visit the article I wrote on the Senegal/Gambian Ancient Civilization: the Senegambian Stone Circles.

Stolen 18th Century Crown Returned to Ethiopia

Ethiopian Crown 18th Century
The crown is currently being stored in a highly secured facility in the Netherlands (Source: BBC/AFP/Getty)

Following our article back in October of last year, 18th Century Ethiopian Crown to be Returned Home from Netherlands, it is with great joy that we announce the official return of the crown to Ethiopia. Below is from the BBC.

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The Ethiopian government has received an 18th Century crown that had been stolen then hidden in a flat in the Netherlands for 21 years.

The crown is thought to be one of just 20 in existence. It has depictions of Jesus Christ, God and the Holy Spirit, as well as Jesus’ disciples, and was likely gifted to a church by the powerful warlord Welde Sellase hundreds of years ago.

Ethiopian Sirak Asfaw, who lives in the Netherlands, discovered the crown in the suitcase of a visitor he was hosting.

Upon realising that it was stolen he held onto it until 2018 when Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed was elected to office. He then reached out to art historian Arthur Brand and Dutch police to help keep it safe until its return home to Ethiopia.

On Thursday, Mr Abiy tweeted photos of him receiving the crown from a delegation that included Dutch Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation Sigrid Kaag.