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Photo by Ciku Kimeria

Who Are the Black-Painted Mandinga Warriors of São Vicente's Carnival?

We explore the fascinating history behind a curious carnival tradition in Sao Vicente, Cape Verde.

Tens of thousands of people gather in early March every year in the island of Sao Vicente for Carnival. As one of Cape Verde's 10 islands, its major claim to fame is as the home of the legendary singer Cesaria Evora who was known as "The Barefoot Diva" and almost always performed with a bottle of Cognac on stage and a cigarette in her hand. Though it is now the second largest island in the country in terms of population and the unrivaled capital of culture in the country, it was mostly uninhabited until the mid to late 19th century.

One of the most breathtaking sights from the Sao Vicente Carnival is that of The Mandingas. While they are a common sight throughout the festival, the day fully dedicated to them is the final day of Carnival known as The Mandinga Funeral/Carnival Funeral. The carnival funeral is an occasion for people to honor their black ancestors while also mourning the end of the festival. Greased completely in oil and tar, donning sisal skirts and carrying spears, they are a sight to behold as they transform themselves into Mandinga warriors. Everyone follows them from the relatively poor neighborhood of Ribeira Bote as they carry two black coffins with some in the crowd donning similar attire. The crowd chants, sings and dances while the Mandingas call out, "Harrrrrrryaa!" The parade through the streets lasts all day culminating in the sunset burial of the coffins in the ocean. The crowd is worked into a frenzy as the drums beat louder and a sort of orgiastic, other-worldly energy takes hold of the crowd. Some people jump into the ocean following the coffins.


Throughout the carnival I was very curious about the Mandingas. While I had not witnessed anything disrespectful in their behavior when they were covered in tar and wearing their costumes, the only reference point I have for such attire is blackface. I needed to get to the bottom of it and understand the motivation behind their costumes. I also wondered, "Can it be blackface if you identify as being black or part black?" To seek answers I turned to the legendary Cape Verdean dancer and Artistic Director of the Cultural Center of Mindelo, Antonio Tavares. In addition to all his accolades he is also an expert on the Mandinga history in the Sao Vicente Carnival. He asserts, "This is not blackface. We are a people who have been cut off from our African roots, suffering from an identity crisis. The Mandingas allow the youth of Sao Vicente to reclaim our African heritage and pay homage to this heritage." The battle cry from the Mandinga crew "Harrrrryaaa!" he has discovered from his research to be a mispronunciation from a song by the legendary mid-20th century Jamaican-American musician, Harry Belafonte. Antonio continues, "In his song, he is telling black people to "Hurry up!" as the revolution is coming."

Unlike some of the other Cape Verdean islands, Sao Vicente does not have a history of people being enslaved there given how late it was inhabited. However, as people came to Sao Vicente from other Cape Verdean islands, other African countries (of course in addition to people from parts of Europe,) the slavery legacy is still a part of people's history. The majority of Cape Verdeans and people in Sao Vicente identify either as being black or creole (mixed white and black).

There are two key explanations for how the Mandingas of Ribeira Bote came to dress as they do. One is that sometime in the late 19th century, there was a Mozambican king, Gungunhana, who passed through Mindelo on his way to exile in the Portuguese island of Azores in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. Exile in Azores was Gungunhana's punishment for having rebelled against Portuguese rule. On his way there he passed through Mindelo—those who saw him were inspired by his noble nature, resistance to colonial rule and emulated him. Another explanation for the inspiration behind The Mandingas is that sometime in the mid-20th century, there was a group of people from the actual Mandinga tribe from West Africa that passed through Mindelo on their way to participate in an independence festival in Portugal where they had been invited by then Portuguese Prime Minister António de Oliveira Salazar.

Whichever story is true, Antonio Tavares reiterates that dressing as The Mandingas is an act of reverence, pride and paying homage to a part of their identity that has been lost. And so, while it might be a bit jarring to the visitor to Cape Verde to see the choice of costume of the Mandingas of Ribeira Bote, it is perhaps a reminder that sometimes things are neither black nor white, but a little bit more complex.

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'54 Silhouettes' at the British Council of Nigeria's Lagos Theatre Festival. Photo: Drive Adebayo.

'54 Silhouettes' Is the One-Man Play Exploring What Happens When Other People Tell Our Stories

The play is the first from Nigeria to show at the international United Solo Theatre Festival in NYC.

Playwright, screenwriter, and theatre director Africa Ukoh's award-winning play 54 Silhouettes has made its way to New York City as part of the United Solo Festival, the annual international festival, highlighting solo theatre performances through a "variety of one-person shows."

The one-man play stars the award-winning Nigerian actor Charles Etubiebi as a struggling actor who thinks he's landed his big break when he gets a major role in an upcoming blockbuster, he becomes conflicted, however, when he learns the film is yet another stereotypical "war in Africa" production—the type of film he vowed to never do. "Caught between career ambitions and ideals of his African identity, he must decide whether to do the film or ditch it," reads an official description of the show.

"The play explores African representation in global media and asks questions about creative responsibility, with tensions of cross cultural relations at the center of it all," Ukoh tells OkayAfrica. "It explores the inherent complexities in culturally unique stories being told by people of different cultures and how this intersects with power dynamics, commerce, and artistic ideals."

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Faced with a lack of party options, a group of friends in Côte d'Ivoire sought to revolutionize the way their city turns up.

The opening line of DJ Arafat's hit song "Maman Sery" plays and the people on stage scream it as loudly as the crowd facing them below. Lighted phones are up in the air. Where some strangers embrace one another, others clutch their chests. The setting? A garden in Abidjan's commune of Cocody on a Sunday night.

Sundays in Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire had always been reserved for beach trips and family time. All of this changed dramatically in December of 2018 when Fayçal Lazraq, Lionel Obam, Aurore Aoussi, Charles Tanoh-Boutchoue, and Aziz Doumbia, better known as Bain de Foule Creative Studio created La Sunday and it took Abidan by storm.

According to Charles Tanoh-Boutchoue, co-founder of La Sunday, "The idea was to create an alternative event for fun amongst friends." The differentiating factor here was these "friends" weren't just anyone; they were trendsetters at the epicenter of Abidjan's bustling creative scene. Shares from these creatives were instrumental in creating the engagement surrounding La Sunday and its subsequent expansion.

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Stormzy Recruits Burna Boy & Ed Sheeran For 'Own It'

Watch the new music video from Stormzy's upcoming new album.

Stormzy is readying the release of his second album, Heavy Is the Head, due December 13.

He's now come through with the new music video and single for "Own It," an electronic head-nodder collaboration with the Burna Boy and Ed Sheeran.

The addictive new song is accompanied by a new music video, directed by Nathan James Tettey. It follows Stormzy, Burna Boy, and Ed Sheeran as they perform on rainy London rooftops, warehouses and club dance floors—simply put, it looks like a fun time.

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(Photo credit should read PIUS UTOMI EKPEI/AFP via Getty Images)

#SayNoToSocialMediaBill: Nigerians Protest Proposed Law Allowing Government to Block the Internet

Nigerians are saying no to the 'Protection from Internet Falsehood and Manipulation Bill' that they say will give the government the power to silence them.

A bill that could limit democratic expression amongst social media users in Nigeria, has been proposed in the senate for the second time this year, Techcabal reports. Several Nigerians are now speaking out against it.

The bill, called the "Protection from Internet Falsehood and Manipulation Bill 2019 (SB 132)," would essentially allow the government to shutdown the internet whenever it sees fit. It was proposed by Senator Muhammadu Sani Musa of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), who claimed that the measure was necessary to prevent the spread of "hate speech" and extremist ideologies through online channels. "Individuals and groups influenced by ideologies and deep-seated prejudices in different countries are using internet falsehood to surreptitiously promote their causes, as we have seen in Nigeria with the insurgency of Boko haram," he said.

A clip of Senator Elisha Abbo another vocal supporter of the bill, who is currently under investigation for an alleged assault after being caught on video slapping a woman at a sex shop in July—shows him passionately defending the bill on the floor and condemning what he calls "fake news" from being spread to different countries. "It is a cancer waiting to consume all of us," said Abbo.

A similar bill was proposed back in 2015, but was widely criticized and never passed.

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