The 33rd National Festival of Arts and Culture (NAFEST) has kicked off in the pleasant city of Jos, the Plateau State capital.
The opening ceremony was a mix of formalities and displays by the contingents who came from the 36 States of the federation and FCT. It would be a weeklong of events like exhibitions, dramatic displays, quizzes, sports etc.
During the opening ceremony, COVID-19 protocol was strictly adhered to in line with the theme of the event: Post- COVID-19 and Cultural Dynamism. The ceremony also ended well without any hitches. In fact, the Director-General, National Council for Arts and Culture, Otunba Olusegun Runsewe, pointed that Plateau was the first State to host an event of this magnitude since COVID-19.
However, of all the displays during the day, the one which held everyone captive was that of the Dantala Group. The Dantala Group is a local Plateau folk music cultural group. It is very popular among the natives and quite unique in the use of instruments like the traditional xylophones, drums, guitars, flutes and costumes. An over one hour display by the group held everyone tight to his seat.
The display began with a character posing like a statue on two huge drums. Then came the narrator, a bearded old character with a walking stick. He was to narrate the history of Plateau which began with the native ethnic groups living peacefully under a clement weather with abundant food and mineral resources.
The Plateau natives were characterised by young men and women dressed in varying colours and displaying the traditional dances of the various groups on the Plateau.
Along the line, the colonialists came in search of the mineral riches of the land with the weather being the biggest attraction. A group of young men and women characterised the white men, displaying the audacity these foreigners had and the force with which they used to conquer the natives. Also, fellow citizens like the Ibos, Yorubas, Hausas, Fulanis etc, took advantage of the commercial boom and prosperity and found their way to the land in search of greener pastures.
But this is at the expense of the once boisterous natives who withdrew out of fear of their intruders and cultural shock from an alien culture. Despite the resistance from the native warriors, the white man established hegemony over the land.
With the establishment of hegemony, Jos Plateau state became a centre of tin mining from where the products were repatriated to industries in Liverpool and Manchester England. While this was going on, Jos transformed from a small mining town to a commercial city that accommodated so many ethnic Nigerians, Africans, Asians, Europeans and so on. But the heterogeneous nature also resulted to culture-conflict which gave rise to several crises and the complete eroding of the peace and tranquil nature which had been the foundation of the society. Also, western culture eroded the Plateau culture which can be seen in the latest dances, dressing, food and all sort of criminality.
This reality was dramatized by the characters who all fell flat like the vanquished while others retreated into a huge rock (a model of the legendary Riyom rock).
Under this condition of uncertainty, doom and quite, the narrator wondered who would redeem the lost glory of the Plateau. But then a goddess of the natives appeared and from the ruins picked up the magical drumsticks. She proceeded, accompanied by some ancestors who appeared like masquerades from one of the local tribes. She handed over the sticks to the ‘rescuer’, Governor of Plateau State, Simon Lalong, who then went ahead to beat the drums that awoke the dead natives and from then on it was all celebration, dances and joy.
As a matter of fact, this display depicts the crucial nature of NAFEST in restoring unity and peace and re-inventing the rich culture, tourism and arts of the Plateau people. Gov. Lalong had even acknowledged the place of arts and culture and said we can’t allow the COVID-19 pandemic to erode arts and culture as a pillar of the society. He noted that our diversity should be the bedrock of our society and not what divides us.
As one who was proudly born and bred in Plateau state, I found the display by Dantala Group quite inspiring and enlightening. I also believe that visitors who witnessed it might have even gained more insight and a first hand knowledge of the history and culture of Plateau.
After several years of crises and bickering over the soul of Plateau state, NIFEST would re-discover the past glory and image of Plateau State which had since been lost due to conflicts of the past.