Even in Africa, the cultural steamroller of globalization has been flattening generations-old traditions, replacing them with TV, smartphones and other distractions common in the modern era. The FESTIMA festival seeks to stem the bleeding by showing that community celebrations of pantomime, dancing, and adrenaline-pumping music beat an evening spent crawling Facebook any day of the week.
How It All Got Started
Mask making is an art that has gone on for countless centuries within the vast array of tribal cultures present in West Africa. FESTIMA, founded in 1996 by a group of university students in Burkino Faso, has created a platform where artisans and dancers can get together and promote eons-old customs that are in danger of evaporating in the face of the global monoculture that has claimed other traditions worldwide.
With a bevy of colors, passionate performing artists, and enchanting music that define the base culture of West Africa, this festival is reason enough for any culture hound to pack their bags and book a flight itinerary to and from the nation of Burkina Faso.
What to Expect at FESTIMA
Expect a series of performances unlike any you'll ever experience elsewhere in the world. The beating of drums and other handcrafted percussion instruments create the soundtrack to which dancers, clad in impossibly detailed masks and costumes, move and gyrate. It's as if the music possesses their body, twisting and contorting them in any way it wishes.
After the main performances, the party moves out into the streets, with everyday people joining the costumed performers in a celebration of life that puts comparable events in the developed world to shame. There's more to this week than just the main dance numbers though, as storyteller competitions and academic symposiums on the evolution and present state of West African culture also take place throughout Dédougou, making it a well-rounded event for those looking to get the inside perspective on life in this corner of the world.
Things to Keep in Mind
First things first: in the past few years, West Africa has been in the news for all the wrong reasons. The Ebola epidemic that affected Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone has been almost exclusively confined to these three small nations, yet tourism to the whole of West Africa, a region half the size of the USA has been drastically affected. The WHO has long ago declared Burkina Faso free of the disease, so it is safe to travel here without worry.
With that necessary proclamation out of the way, be prepared to party well into the night at FESTIMA, as local dances break out all across the city of Dédougou throughout the life of the festival. You won't be without the fuel necessary to fuel all that reveling, though, as markets set up around town will be cooking West African specialties to keep you and fellow celebrants well-fed. Be sure to try the Kedjenou, a chicken stew cooked for hours with tomatoes and peppers!
While you might want to do a spot of exploring around a nation that 90% of people have never heard about before after the festival, do confirm with consular officials where it is safe to travel, as northern sectors of the country have experienced unrest in the past. Finally, be sure to take preventative measures against dengue fever and malaria, as both mosquito-borne diseases are endemic in Burkina Faso.
There are two airports in Europe that offer direct flights to Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso: Paris and Brussels. Those that don't reside near these cities will have to connect through these hubs, as all other flights that land in Ouagadougou originate from other points in Africa. Upon arrival in Ouagadougou, get a bus from there to Dédougou, which amounts to a cost of no more than $10 USD.