Though Halloween has undergone a kind of Americanization in recent decades, its has a history in Christianity (All Hallow’s Eve before All Hallow’s Day) and a Celtic pagan festival called Samhain.
However, similar reverence for the dead and spirits is a theme throughout the world. Here are a few unique Africa-related connections:
Fete Des Masques (Festival of Masks) or Dama, Mali
The Fete Des Masques, otherwise known as the Dama, is held in some parts of Mali by the Dogon community. Depending on the source, this festival is held annually, every 12 years, or when the elders choose. The festival is part harvest festival but also part commemoration of the dead.
Masks are major aspect of the festival and of the Dogon culture. Some masks protect against vengeance and some pass on knowledge to the next generation. These masks are worn in important ceremonial dances that tell the history of the Dogon.
Learn more about the festival.
Watch a National Geographic video.
The Egungun Fesitval, Nigeria
The Egungun Festival is a Yoruba festival that honors the dead and assures ancestors a place among the living. According to tradition, it is the dead ancestors’ responsibility to keep the living on track with the ethical and moral standards of the past. Throughout the festival, male members of Egungun families wear masks, dance, and communicate with the spirits of the ancestors with the help of Egungun priests. The masquerade then cleanses the community through whipping, sacrifices, as well as bestowing blessings and warnings about impending events. This festival takes place throughout Yoruba communities around the world including this annual event in South Carolina.
Read more about the Egungun Festival.
The Tragic, Forgotten History of Zombies:
The image of Zombies are all over popular culture now (Walking Dead, World War Z, etc), but the “zombie” as we know it owes its heritage to Haitian slaves, who imagined being imprisoned in their bodies forever. The American Hollywood image was launched in the movies’ Night of the Living Dead (1968) and Dawn of the Dead (1978) by director George A. Romero. But the zombie myth began in 17th and 18th century Haiti (then Sant-Domingue), where African slaves were made to work on the sugar plantations. The treatment of slaves here was extremely brutal with half the people dying within a few years. The zombie was a mirror of the horrors of slavery and the possibility of an after-life of condemnation on the sugar plantations for eternity.
Read the whole story here.