‘Calabar Carnival’, Africa’s Largest Street Party!

Photo by Miriro Matema

Disclaimer: Not all words used in my blog can necessarily be found in the English dictionary, so tune into the Eno dictionary mode/ setting and you will do just fine. I will however ensure that even though you are unable to tune in, that you are carried along just fine.

I remember one time when I was much younger and the sitting governor of that time, Donald Duke, expressed his desire to put the state of Cross River on the global map to be known as a great tourist destination that would come with fun and a great time and would be sure to bring in tourists consistently even after his tenure was done and to cut the long story short, he achieved this and made us his citizens see that we had much more than potential. We were the real deal.

Let me tell you the story of how it all began. The Calabar Carnival which has grown to be Africa’s biggest street party had its pilot event in December 2004 on the streets of Calabar. It kicks off in the early hours of the morning and lasts till well after midnight on the next day. It acts as the crowning event of all Christmas festivities that start from the first of December. The carnival seeks to enhance the culture of the South-South people of the country, Nigeria as a whole, West Africans, and the rest of the world. Of recent, other countries have joined in in the celebrations. Osima-Dokubo is a member of the organizing committee says the goal of the organizers of the carnival every year is to include “more aspects of local heritage and culture and at the same time strengthen the capacity of the locals to participate in an economically beneficial way.” – Nomad Africa

As the month progresses, a series of various events by different organizers happen at various locations across the city but the carnival is the one that brings everyone together. The carnival is home to various bands who compete for the best band and other competitions. The bands include; Seagull, Passion 4, Masta Blasta, Bayside, and Freedom. Celebrities from Nollywood are a major part of the carnivals and are usually hired by individual bands and there are live performances by both local and international artists. International acts such as Lucky Dube, Fat Joe, Akon, Wyclef Jean and so much more have graced the stages of the Calabar Carnival. Asides from music and dancing, there are lots of other displays like the children’s carnival, bikers carnival, traditional carnival, boat regatta, the Christmas Village, traditional dances, Ekpe Festival, and new ones popping up each year to be an attraction to tourists and locals alike. It is already a new year, and this means the holidays are just around the corner. I know, 9 months away seems like a lot but the earlier one gets ready and all, the better. This will give room to consider whatever protocols are in place and allow people to prepare accordingly especially if love to plan ahead like me, you already know it is time to start getting the holiday plans in motion. Stop thinking and actually start doing.

I will be dropping a few tips on the things to take note of when planning a trip to Calabar, especially for the famous Christmas carnival.

  • Book flights and hotels early. This is common sense and a great financial decision.
  • Be ready to walk around a lot so we are talking about the use of comfy shoes like sneakers, trekkers, and much more.
  • Deodorant, please. Too many times, people have raised their arms close to me and left not very pleasant smells lingering after them So, I use this medium to beg each person to take responsibility to avoid making the event uncomfortable.
  • Stay hydrated. Have water on you always Nigeria is not a cold place, and it can get as warm as 35 degrees every now and then. Heat strokes are very real, and dehydration is not a walk in the park. To avoid this, please stay very hydrated.
  • Comfort over fashion except you are that special percent of people that can do both, then you are good to go. All the roads will be blocked so no vehicles will be able to move you from one destination to another during the carnival and you do not want to be walking across a city literally in heels of shoes that have not been broken in yet.
  • Disinfectant toilet wipes. You will be using facilities along with thousands of other humans and you cannot make excuses for anyone and you need to protect yourself and avoid living the festivities with an infection or worse.
  • Mind what you are given to drink as you do not want to be tipsy and not be able to be present especially if you are all alone.
  • Do not drink on an empty stomach except you plan on getting drunk/ tipsy fast. Again, if you are alone this can spell a d-i-s-a-s-t-e-r.
  • Interact with the locals. If you are in a hotel you will most likely be in sheltered living, but I have learned first-hand that interacting with a city local can improve the quality of your stay drastically and give you true day-to-day living that is experienced on a regular. Plus, you get all the scoop for local food spots which are always a win. Make sure you have some boli (roast plantain) and fish at the naval barracks.

Five or so years ago, was different though. I did not go as a viewer; I went as a photographer and as a blogger. Usually, I would be holed up at a spot with my friends and laughing/ partying and catching up with old friends, but this time, I stuck to the streets with my camera in my hand and a bottle of water in my bag. interviewing people and taking photos and seeing a whole new view even though I had been attending the carnival for well over a decade.

Until next time, stay safe my friends.

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