Africa and the Middle East 8 – The best of the rest

The best of the rest (5)

Mwaka Kogwa

Where? Zanzibar

When? July

How long? 1 day

Celebrating the Shirazi (Persian) New Year, Mwaka Kogwa is entirely organized and performed by the locals: the men take on each other in mock “fights”, armed only with banana leaves; the women parade around in their finest outfits choosing suitors; and there’s ritual burning of a grass hut – the direction of the smoke supposedly determines the prosperity of the village in the coming year.


Where? Swaziland

When? December

How long? 3 weeks

Swaziland’s Ncwala or “First Fruits” festival is a raucous thanksgiving celebration, praising the king and his people while simultaneously feting the new harvest – and the New Year. Starting on a date decided upon by Swaziland’s royal astrologers (basically 3 weeks from the full moon), the first days of the festival see the Bemanti or “Water People” travelling to the coast to capture foam from the waves. They then return to celebrate “Little Ncwala” by collecting shrubs and ritually slaughtering a bull. Once the full moon has arrived, the chief tastes the first fresh produce of the year, royal objects representing the previous year are burnt amidst much colourful pageantry, and the people throw themselves into all-night dancing, drinking, feasting and merrymaking – “Big Ncwala”. Ncwala is also celebrated in Zambia, towards the end of February, when the Chewa chief ceremonially samples the harvest and then slaughters a bull and drinks its blood.

Nederburg Wine Auction and PaarlWine Festival

Where? Nederburg and Paarl, South Africa

When? April

How long? 3 days

These two festivals follow on from each other in April every year, and attract up to thirty thousand visitors keen to make sure that the region’s wine season opens well. The wine auction attracts lots of buyers, but it is more than just a business event, with a great atmosphere that flows through to the festival, when the first wines of the year are carried up the mountain slopes behind town in a variety of novel ways, and there’s plenty of sampling and general enjoyment. It’s not something to race down from Cairo for, but good fun if you’re in the area.


Where? Ghana

When? July

How long? 10 days

Gold-rich Ghana was a cornerstone of European trading interests in West Africa during the colonial era, so it makes perfect sense that it’s latterly become a focus for homecomers from the African diaspora. Riding this wave, Panafest (short for Pan-African historical Theatre Festival; ®, a biennial celebration of African culture and freedom, is a lively mixture of events – part-pilgrimage, part-party. Movingly, pilgrims gather at Cape Coast, one-time hub of the transatlantic slave trade, for a candlelit Emancipation Vigil to honour the victims of slavery. Then, on a more boisterous note, there’s booty­shaking entertainment from traditional West African musicians.

Sauti Za Busara Festival

Where? Stone Town, Zanzibar

When? February

How long? 5 days

A feast of East African music, this relatively new festival rocks Stone Town and around with a wide variety of Swahili music and dance. Whoever the participants might be, the locations can’t be beat: four days in Stone Town’s Omani Fort, followed by a big finale on the beach at Kendwa, in the north of the island, where the acts are accompanied by crafts, food, fire-eaters and all manner of Swahili entertainment. If you can only be here for one day, make it this last one.

Splashy Fen

Where? Underberg, South Africa

When? April

How long? 4 days

Woodstock and Glastonbury meet Africa at Splashy Fen, a farm in Underberg, at the foot of Natal’s Drakensberg Mountains, for one of the southern hemisphere’s greatest music festivals. Over ten thousand people turn up to the Easter weekend camp-out at the Fen; tickets R350 or R200 per day) to catch sessions ranging from township musicians pounding out the bqanga beat to the latest big names in South African pop, along with a handful of international acts. Now is the time to go, as the festival is growing, and has lost a lot of its raw spirit over recent years, having accepted an increased amount of corporate sponsorship. Nonetheless, it’s still South Africa’s biggest music event.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *