Every year in the land of masquerades, Rivers State, for seven days, opulence, diversity and culture merge; what follows is an explosion of colors and orgasmic rhythms that fill the streets of the city. It is said to draw 10,000 active participants: dancers, puppeteers, warriors, masquerades. This spectacle is called the Carniriv Festival.
It is a celebration that unites the various ethnicities that co-exist in Rivers State, a meeting-point of cultures embodied in seven languages and 300 dialects. A pride of the people of the state, it has been described as “a display of the indigenous culture of the Rivers People…(in the sense that) the costumes, dance and music on display are indigenous.”
Though it is a celebration sourced from indigenous practices, the festivities are participated in by people from all over the world. Foreign entertainers and tourists are a core part of the festival which has become the state’s biggest tourism export and puts it on the map. Artists like P Square, Davido, Terry G and Patoranking have graced the stage at the festival.
During the parade, representative of the 23 local government areas in the state engage in a procession through the streets of Port Harcourt, the capital city, giving stellar performances that might include masquerade dances. Soemtimes, the International Heritage Parade includes performers from South Africa, Malaysia.
With its burst of color, flamboyant costumes and expansiveness, it has been compared to Carnaval do Rio de Janeiro in Brazil and the Trinidad and Tobago festival. Begin in 1988, it is one of the youngest cultural festivals in the country but has quickly grown to one of its most visible.
Kanyinsola Olorunnisola is a journalist, social critic and literary enthusiast. He is the recepient of the 2017 Fisayo Soyombo National Essay Prize, the 2020 Speculative Literary Foundation’s Diverse Writers Grant and the 2020 K&L Prize for African Literature. He is the founder of SprinNG, a platform dedicated to the development of young African writers.