Your Excellency, Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen. Participants in the second World Black and African Festival of Arts and Culture-May 1, on behalf of the people and Government of Nigeria welcome you all here present to Lagos. We also extend fraternal greetings to Black and African peoples wherever they may be on the occasion of the official opening of the Second World Black and African Festival of Arts and Culture. This afternoon, we are rekindling the torch lit 15 years ago in Dakar.
We should like to record our appreciations to the people and government of the Republic of Senegal for hosting the First Festival of Negro Arts and thereby initiating the process of cultural renewal and communion of Black and African people from all over the world.
Ordinarily the term diaspora’ refers to a movement and dispersion away from a center. I would like to suggest that a movement towards the source is also diasporic. In the first sense, those of us Black and African people still living on our great Continent of Africa normally direct our attention on events and developments in the cities of Europe and North America.
In the second sense, to most Black and African people who live away from our great Continent, Africa is still more than a historical connection, Africa is still more than a historical connection. This gathering we are witnessing now is diasporic in both senses in that we are attempting recapture the origins are authenticity of the African heritage.
Throughout the period of this Festival, Africa will be the focus of the attention not only of Black and African People, but of all the peoples of the world to whom we are linked in our common humanity. For some, the Lagos Festival is a feast of masks and dances. Others see it as a setting for restoring harmony to the individual psyche. Yet for some others, it is a quest for the base metal. This is in the nature of things. However, above and beyond these individual and subjective levels of approach to the Festival, there is a dimension that encompasses the inner and deeper reality, the urging and the inspiration of the whole race of Black and African people.
It is this communal and objective dimension that provides the spirit to which this Festival is dedicated. We are, indeed the children of a diaspora. Nigeria, therefore, welcomes you all to one of your homelands here on the African soil.
On this occasion, it is appropriate that we consider our place on the world scene. Culture, after all, is the material and physical expression of the interaction between man and his universe. For a long time our place in the world was mapped, analyzed and interpreted by others.
The Black and African peoples of the world, while yet living were, through this process, reduced to inert if not inanimate objects of Western speculation. The journey towards political awakening began with a cultural restoration of our denigrated pasts. We great again the pioneers, living and dead, of this restoration. They have individually and collectively cleared the ground, and the field has been passed to us for consolidation, preservation and transfer to posterity.
Whatever is our various and individual callings, we should resolve to dedicate the Lagos Festival to the sowing of a seed which, nurtured by renewed awareness and dedication, will bloom anew. We invite you to look around you and appraise for yourselves what the future holds for us; what promise this cultural re-awakening holds for us. I make bold to say that the star of our people is on the ascendancy and we shall, without doubt in my mind, realize the essential and ultimate freedom of thought and action which all of us are striving for.
To succeed we must restore the link between culture, creativity and mastery of modern technology and industrialism. The timeless of our art forms has made this great continent the point of reference for defining both ancient and modern art.
The terra cota head of life challenges the claim of Greco-Latin pre-eminence. The creativity of Dogon and Bambara pre-dates the originality of modernists from Gaugin to Picasso and Moore. The power of African creativity is often described as past, ancient and only of archaeological interest, as if a people could ever loose that universal inner motivation wherein creativity emanates.
The Benin art that so engages the interests of art connoisseur still remains a living force and continues to enrich the artistic heritage of not only this nation but for all lovers of African art. Much of this creative power and genius will be apparent here in Lagos during the next four weeks.
It has now been established that man started his journey from our great continent. It has also been accepted that the earliest tools, which were the beginning of modern technology were fashioned here. The pyramids of Egypt, the ruin of Zimbabwe, the subtle and complex designs of African traditional architecture, and the achievements and scholarship of the University of Timbuktu all attest to the fact that there is a rich and distinguished past for which all African peoples can proudly claim world distinction. Human civilization was a corporate experience of the human race and our contribution has not been inconsiderable.
This great continent had great civilizations before and after the awakening of the northern hemisphere. It seems these days necessary to make these excursions into the past but I believe we have come of age and no longer need reassurance from ourselves or from someone else that we had a past.
A past equally inspiring and worthy of the greatest recognition we can accord our enviable past. What is of paramount importance is to recognize and give modern technology which is the base of Western dominance, its due place. Modern technology is indispensable to our march forward but acquisition of technological superiority does not mean a brake with the past.
Our past is what makes us and will determine whether indeed technology has any ethical, spiritual and other talent to our people. Technology has to fit into our culture and our conception of the word and not vice-versa.
The answer lies in our mental emancipation, a break with the idea that technology which is currently a Western preserve, means emasculating our culture and identifying with a so-called ‘Technological Culture’, The Lagos Festival should be seen as a communion of thought and action, and of deep reflection.
The ethnocentric bias that we have lived with for so long, the false dichotomy which classed the human race into masters and servants, one half with apart and one without is one of the great historical frauds of our time. We can only refute and reject this dichotomy by our actions and not rhetoric.
We must do all we can to erase the foundations of this division which has led to the subjugation and inhuman treatment of some of our brothers right here in Africa. Superiority lies in our strength and an invariable spirit that rejects enslavement in all its forms, mental and otherwise.
We must dedicate this festival to ensuring that Black and African peoples all over the world become aware of what it takes to change the lot of our peoples and industrialization and technological advance are our essential imperative. Just as our ancestors have made a timeless impact in the development of aesthetic cultural artifacts we too have the task of bringing this inherent creative power to bear on the mastery of industrial progress.
Before I conclude my remarks, I would like to announce to our guests that today is Nigeria’s National Remembrance Day, a day normally reserved for quiet reflection and meditation. It is principally a time for paying tribute to the sacrifice of our countrymen who lived and died in the interest of our nation and the service of humanity at large.
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