By Pelu Awofeso
By the time the2010 edition of CARNIRIV (Rivers State Carnival) was over locals and participants were all agreed that it was the most professionally executed since it was re-introduced into the Rivers State tourist calendar in 2008. “There is an improvement in everything this year,” says a freelance photographer for Adeko Digital, who has covered the event for three years running. “Last year, most of the booths were not well decorated but this time around they are more presentable, and the stage is far more impressive than it has been in previous years.”
Inviting Notting Hill
It’s all thanks to Rt. Hon. Rotimi Amaechi, the Rivers State governor, who has moved the oil-rich state forward from being a troubled region of militants to a peaceful place for the indigenes and residents. “Today we can converge in Port Harcourt unparalysed about the stealthy creeping years which terrors we now defy,” Amaechi says in his welcome remarks, laced with poetic lines. “Today we converge and will continue to approach the future with commitment bound by our sense of a common heritage.”
Mindful that there established traditions in the carnival culture, the state government for the first time outsourced all aspects of this year’s edition to consultants, Message Wise Limited. And to ensure that the carnival in Port Harcourt meets international standards, the organisers go all the way to invite Shabaka Thomson, CEO of the trendsetting Notting Hill Carnival Village, London, who flew in with his team on Dec 10.
“We feel strongly as Africans of the Diaspora that carnivals are the most inclusive art forms,” Thomson says on the opening night, December 13. “Carnival will continue to unite us as African peoples. We feel at home; we feel welcome.”
Thomson’s team will work to perfect the 15 carnival bands and floats that will march through the streets of Port Harcourt on the pre-determined carnival route, December 17. “I am from a country of carnivals,” says Thomson, referring to Trinidad and Tobago. “We must ensure that we bridge the cultures between the African peoples and ourselves in the diaspora… Our cultures will rise and rise.”
One other feature that makes this year’s CARNIRIV an even richer experience is the children street parade. In the past two editions it was an all-adult affair. “But someone made a case for children’s participation sometime ago and mentioned it to First Lady Dame Judith Amaechi, and she gave her blessing,” says an insider and one of the children’s co-ordinators.
And so 2010 CARNIRIV kicked off with a children’s parade, which consists of five groups formed around the theme of Nature—Vegetation, Butterfly, Dove, Oyster and Fish, all of these elements found in Rivers State. “Oyster is a treasure; Oyster is precious,” says one kid narrator doing a solo rendition at the opening, “and Rivers State is the Treasure Base of The Nation.”
It took four weekends of rehearsals for the youngsters, who represent about 20 schools, to perfect their acts. “We get all of them together, play music and teach them the dance routines,” says Ngozi Otamiri from Model Primary School, G.R.A., and teacher-member of the Dove Group.
“it’s not been easy preparing them for the opening ceremony,” adds Louisa Ewurum of State Model Primary School, Air Force Base, Rumuomasi. “But then we are used to the rigours of putting our pupils through their tasks in school, so we always know how to teach them what they need to know.”
And the kids did not let the teachers down. The rendition was almost faultless. “This is my best day ever,” says MaryAnn Nwankwo of the Model Girls Secondary School, Rumueme, and frontrunner for the ‘Bees and Butterfly’ group. “It is my first time participating in something of this nature and I am very glad. It was not too difficult to get the dance steps. We even brought in styles of our own.”
Another addition to the CARNIRIV bouquet of activities is the regatta, which is common to the riverine communities of Nigeria. “We intent to make it (Regatta) very special because it is an important aspect of our heritage,” says Artistic Director and university teacher Sam Dede, speaking to the media.
Dede represents a body of theatre artistes in Rivers State who’ve been widely engaged for their expertise to add value and colour to the carnival. “We in the arts have been able to enjoy doing what we know to do best,” theatre Artist and costume designer Millicent Jack tells me at the Carnival Village, built by another local artist Yibo Koko. “The 2008 and 2009 outings were experimental but this time around everyone is working with laid down standards and guidelines. His Excellency Governor Rotimi Amaechi has shown that he is committed to the carnival and not relenting in any way.”
CARNIRIV’s theme this year is ‘Experience Rivers’. “This theme is anchored on the realisation that Rivers State, known as the treasure base of the Nigeria has an abundant reservoir of cultural products and practitioners, and we have a responsibility and commitment to properly harness these into a viable investment powerhouse,” says Commissioner for Culture and Tourism, Hon. Marcus Nle Ejii. “Beyond showcasing our dynamic and rich heritage, we have initiated structures to ensure that CARNIRIV becomes a global brand that will place Rivers State in positive and complimentary international light.”
So far the various activities scheduled for the weeklong carnival—from cultural performances to the regatta—have been very well attended. The Carnival Village (on Staduim Road), where most of the events are to hold, is always full with an excited and expectant crowd, young and old.
“We hope that this will be another milestone and that we will have over two million tourists during this carnival,” says CARNIRIV chairman and royal father Alfred Diette-Spiff.
Tourist info: CARNIRIV (13-17 Dec 2011)