Festivals are celebrated for several reasons all over the world. Most of them are held to mark the beginning or end of a significant occurrence or to celebrate historical happenings that continue to affect the lives of the people in a particular area.
In Africa, festivals are marked to celebrate the gods, the harvest of food or to remember people who served a community and who died for the survival of many.
During the slave trade, many Africans were forced out of their homes and made to work on plantations in the Caribbean and other parts of the western world.
Even though they were denied their rightful place in and connection to Africa, many of them fought hard to preserve their culture and practices. With time, they developed their own distinctive traditions and way of life, which was a fusion of African and western practices.
In developing such unique cultures, the enslaved Africans in the Caribbean also had various reasons for starting festivals as a way of preserving history and culture.
Here are four very popular Caribbean festivals that were started during slavery and continue to be celebrated today drawing in tourists from all over the world.
Fete Gede Festival – Haiti
The Fete Gede, or the festival of the dead, is one of the most important celebrations on the Voodoo Calender. The annual festival is a celebration of spirits, ancestors and the dead in Haiti and coincides with All Saints Day on the Catholic calendar.
The festival is a celebration for Vodouists, the believers and practitioners of the voodoo religion, one of Africa’s oldest religions. The religion was developed in Haiti and other parts of the Caribbean by West Africans who were forced into slavery. Most of them are the Fonn from Benin, the Yoruba from Nigeria and other Africans from parts of Ghana and the Kingdom of Kongo.
Marked on the first two days of November, the Fete Gede festival is a time for people to seek strength, protection and re-connection with the dead, especially those who died with unfinished conversations or issues with the living.
Junkanoo Festival – The Bahamas
Every year, on December 26 and January 1, many people of African descent in the Bahamas come together to remember their history through music, dance and costume in what is known as the Junkanoo festival.
On December 25, 1708, John Kenu, a millionaire and trader, defeated the Dutch who wanted to take control of the Ahanta land in Ghana and sell the natives into slavery. According to oral history, after taking control over Fort Fredericksburg and weakening the Dutch rule over his people, he was made a ruler. Kenu protected his people by winning several battles against the Germans, Dutch and British for over 20 years.
In his honour, the Fancy Dress festival was started in the Bahamas and parts of Jamaica, in the same fashion as it was started in Ghana, after news of his success was spread by enslaved Africans brought into the Caribbean.
The name of the festival in the Bahamas is an adulteration of the name John Kenu.
Crop Over Harvest Festival – Barbados
Formerly known as Harvest Home, Crop Over or “Crawpova” as it is referred to by locals, this festival is said to have begun in 1687 as a derivative of the harvest festivals in Africa such as the yam festival celebrated in Nigeria and Ghana.
It is a celebration of the successful harvest of sugarcane on plantations in Barbados. On this day, enslaved workers thanked the gods of the land for granting them a bountiful harvest and asked them to purify and bless the land for the year to come.
The descendants held on to this custom and currently, Crop Over celebrations involve a serie of activities including the Kadooment Parades, which has become the highlight of the festival and a huge tourist attraction for the Caribbean island thanks to its global star, Rihanna.
Trinidad and Tobago Carnival – Trinidad and Tobago
The Trinidad and Tobago Carnival is an annual festival or celebration that was started in the 18th century by enslaved Africans during the pre-Lent celebrations of their French plantation masters. Before the lent season, their wealthy French traders and plantation owners often organised grand balls and parties to help usher in the lent season.
Enslaved Africans were not allowed to participate in the celebration, leading them to create their own festival.
Theirs was an imitation and mockery of the French but later became a celebration of African cultures that had survived the crossover from Africa to the Caribbean and were still being practised and observed.
The festival is held on the Monday and Tuesday before Ash Wednesday of every year and involves a lot of music, dancing eating and a very colourful parade.