by Enigbe Solabomi
On December 27th, I was scrolling through my blackberry contacts when the display picture of one of my contacts caught my eye. It was the picture of a scantily clad lady, nothing left to the imagination. I immediately contacted the owner of the blackberry profile. “What in the world are you trying to show?” Her reply, “I am at the Calabar Carnival.”
I can only recoil in increasing degrees of shock as she begins to stream pictures live from the event. Each one seemingly escalating in its degree of nakedness! After a while, I said to myself, enough!
I hail from and was born in Ikom LGA of Cross River State.At age 7, my family relocated to Calabar where I lived until my early adult life. Calabar is a serene, quiet and orderly town; its streets are kept clean with refuse bins strategically located, beautiful vegetation frames the major roads and itspeople are pleasant and hospitable.
A visit to Calabar leaves a memorable experience with a yearning to be back. And a lot of tourists have been back. Year after year, the periodical population explosion attests to the fact that it’s Carnival time.
In the early part of the first decade of this century, the then governor of the state, Mr. Donald Duke inaugurated a series of annual events which took place in the month of December. The first took place in 2004. It encompassed a musical fiesta, beauty pageant, comedy shows and an award ceremony for eligible indigenes of the state. The climax is the Carnival.
In those early days, it was a two-day event for adults and kids.Most major roads in the metropolis were closed to vehicular traffic for a greater part of the day. Those twodays were magical. And thechildren who were on holidays were fully integrated in the Carnival. It was and is still the perfect celebratory end to the year. Men, women and children of the state’s origin who may have been away for economic or other reasons,left the “diaspora” and headed back home. It was a time like no other because it gave purchase to are connecting with loved ones, the nostalgia of days gone by and of course plenty of joyous chit-chat.
In those early days,the participants –each and everyone knowing his or her place (the traditional five bands), assembled at the U.J Esuene’s stadium from where the kaleidoscopic parade begins; the bands journeyed through designated streets led by a king and queen. A carefully decorated carnival truck held the musical troupe of each band which continuously reeled out harmonious tunes.
The governor, his officials alongside notable sons and daughters of the state lead various bands dressed in colorful and breathtaking costumes. Every band is keenly watched by its supporters and non-partisan enthusiasts.
As the years went by, this festival evolved; amongst participants in the various bands were Nigerian entertainers who were at the fore of the parade. The event also gained global recognition. With recognition gained outside the shores of Nigeria, accolades poured in. Tourists, too, poured in. The just ended episode was covered by DSTV with the world, seemingly, converging in Calabar for this grand event.
Even before the DSTV angle, the Calabar Carnival hadbecome recognized with similar status as the popular Caribbean carnivals. December in Calabar became a favourite holiday destination; flight tickets were paid for well in advance and hotel reservations made months before the festival. Hospitality businesses flourish during this period. The carnival brought about an emergence of tremendous growth in number of hotels and restaurants.
What distinguished the Calabar Carnival on inception was its underlying emphasis on creativity in both costume design and expression of various themes. The participants were decently clad and conducted themselves in an appropriate way. It was a family oriented ceremony as it involved both adults and children.
With each passing year, the costumes got less appropriate; belly buttons and cleavages were on copious display, overtly fitted outfits were also on full display. Everyone seemed intent on outdoing the narcissism of the person that came before him or her. Reason fled and we are left to rue the past.
However and particularly galling, the climax of this permeating trend was exhibited in the just concluded 2012 carnival, where scantily clad ladies paraded the streets leaving people astounded by the sheer lack of decorum!Some individuals were bold enough to come out almost stark naked except for head gear and shoes!
The question that begs to be answered is why something which started out as a celebration of cultural diversity has been hijacked by proponents of lewdness and depravity? What happened to the beautiful display of regal costumes both from our local culture and from as far afield as the Spartans, the Egyptians, the Greeks and other classical cultures of ages long past? What can be done to curb this nefarious and insidious development?
Strong measures should be put in place to protect this cherished event; even when there are participants from other nations, it is the place of the organizers to assert a code of conduct which must be strictly adhered to with zero tolerance for non-compliance.
The outcry is for stakeholders to ensure that this trend is no longer tolerated; rather the Calabar carnival should be one that positively promotes the rich heritage of Cross River State, the hospitality of her people and the nation. Long after the event, the experience should linger in the minds of people as a wholesome family oriented event even as they look forward to attending this years’ carnival.
Enigbe Solabomi writes from Abuja.