Festival in the Desert — Festival au Desert
The remote dunes and desert village of Essakane, Mali, come to life for 3 days every year on the second weekend in January, when Tuareg nomads and western musicians gather for a world-renowned music jam called the Festival au Desert in this desolate patch of Saharan sand, about 40 miles (65 kilometers) north of the legendary city of Timbuktu in Africa.
The “world’s most remote music festival” is a half a day’s 4-wheel-drive, or 3 days by camel from the town itself that’s synonymous with being remote and mysterious.
Musicians come from all over the world to experience this exotic, one-of-a-kind music and Tuareg culture festival in the Sahara Desert, modeled on traditional gatherings and celebrations of the Tuareg people — the “Blue Men of the Desert.”
The unique event features musicians from Mali and many other countries world-wide, featuring impromptu performances by traditional Tuareg musicians, singing, dancing, swordplay, and artisans’ exhibits. There are even camel races, but for most people music is the highlight of the festival.
The concerts are held on-stage at night, with the lights and sound system powered by electrical generators.
There are no hotels — accommodations consist of Tuareg tents and ground mats, with hot meals prepared on-site. You won’t find any running water here, but latrines and bucket showers are available. This is not your every-day luxury vacation, but a unique cultural experience.
The next festival with be held January 8th to 10th in 2009.
Noche de Brujas — Night of the Witches
Traditions of witchcraft in Cerro Mono Blanco, Catemaco, Mexico date back centuries where many legends and myths were born, and shamans, healers and fortune-tellers are ever-present. The history of witchcraft in the area is thought to date back over 2,000 years to the pre-Hispanic era, and the first Friday of March every year marks the celebration of the Noche de Brujas - Night of the Witches.
Photo Siete Segundos
Back in the enchanting community of Catemaco, you will find many modern and charming sites in this beautifully landscaped city with clean streets and a mythical atmosphere supercharged with magic.
Cerro Mono Blanco. Photo Galo 1962
One of the featured attractions of the town are the “Monkey Islands” populated by abandoned research monkeys originally imported from Thailand. Nearly 100 boats compete to ferry tourists out to see these Macaque monkeys, uncared for by the locals of Catemaco which are frequently starving and lacking medical care.
The Noche de Brujas itself is now one of the largest meetings of witches, magicians, seers, prophets, traditional healers, and practitioners of alternative medicine in the world in this strangely fascinating and picturesque town.
Carnevale Venezia — Venice Carnival
Venice Italy has long been known for its masked revelers, and about 2 weeks before Ash Wednesday each year marks the beginning of the Carnevale Venezia — the world’s best-known fantasy dress party — which celebrates the approach of Spring, and runs through to Shrove Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday. The Piazza San Marco is the focus of the festival.
In addition to the Carnevale extravaganza, masks were also allowed during Ascension and from October 5 to Christmas, so people could spend a large part of the year in disguise.
Carnevale Di Venezia was first recorded in 1268, but when the Austrians took control of the city on January 18, 1798 it fell into a decline which effectively brought carnival celebrations to a halt for nearly 2 centuries. Carnival was outlawed by the fascist government in the 1930’s, and it wasn’t until a modern mask shop was founded in the 1980’s that Carnival enjoyed a revival.
Mascherari — mask makers — have enjoyed a special position in society, with their own laws and guild, and from the days of Doge Foscari onwards, mask-makers have had their own statute dated 10 April 1436. They belonged to the fringe of painters — sign-painters would draw faces onto plaster in a range of various shapes with extreme attention paid to detail.
Venetian masks can be made in leather or with the original papier-mâché technique. The original Venetian masks were rather simple in design and decoration, frequently bearing a symbolic and practical function.
Most masks today are made with the application of gesso and gold leaf, all hand-painted using natural feathers and gems to decorate them.
Carnevale Di Venezia
Naghol — Land Diving
Taking place in southern Pentecost Island in the tiny Republic of Vanuatu every year on Saturdays between April and May, the deadly ritual of the Naghol is the original bungee jump, where men and boys tie vines to their ankles and jump from a 50 to 100 foot (15 to 30 meter) tower constructed specifically for this event, said to fertilize the ground to guarantee a bountiful yam harvest.
But height isn’t land diving’s scariest part. In this ritual, it isn’t enough to jump with a pair of Tarzan vines keeping you from crashing into the earth — your head has to hit the ground. As you launch yourself into the air, you hope that whoever cut your vines cut them just right so your head will barely touch the ground before they yank you back up.
If they’re too short, you’ll dangle in the air and the yams won’t benefit. If they’re too long the yams will be blessed — but you will die. Vines only 4 inches too long can cost you your life. No wonder just before he jumps, a man can say anything he wants and no one can hold it against him, as they might be his last words.
Vines being cut after a successful jump. Photo Paul S
According to legend, many centuries ago, a beaten woman ran away from her husband. Tamale found her hiding in a tall tree and called to her stating that if she came down her punishment wouldn’t be as severe, but she refused her husband. He climbed the tree after her, but she leaped when the man grabbed for her.
In anguish at her death — or anger that he had missed her — Tamale jumped after her and perished, completely unaware that his wife had tied liana vines around her ankles and survived the fall.
The ritual evolved over the years to stripping a tall tree of its branches and building a tower of sticks to support the trunk. The platform is made of wood and covered with leaves to protect it from drying out by the sun before the ceremony, which are removed by the jumpers before they leap.
The liana vines used for the jumps are slightly elastic following the wet season which are shredded and tied to the tower. Each diver must select his own vine. Men and boys — some as young as 7 years old — climb the tower and leap from the platforms.
Young boys make their first dive jump from the lowest platforms, but even these are 2 stories high. Then the men go — from higher and higher platforms until the most experienced jumper takes the day’s final leap from the tower’s top, as high as 100 feet. The ritual is a show of strength, an acceptance into manhood, and a statement to women that they can never be tricked again.
Photo Paul S
The event is also a fertility rite. When the first yam crop is ready in April each year, the islanders begin construction of the massive towers for the land diving, which takes 5 weeks to build. As the vines stretch at the end of the dive, the land diver’s heads curl under and their shoulders touch the earth, making it fertile for the following year’s yam crop. The ritual is followed with a celebration of Kava, Tuluk, and Laplap.
Vanuatu Land Divers
Cooper’s Hill Cheese Rolling
The Cooper’s Hill Cheese Rolling and Wake is an annual event held on the last mad Monday in May at Cooper’s Hill, near Cheltenham and Gloucester in the Cotswolds region of England, described as “the granddaddy of weird sports” by Paddy McGuiness.
The event takes its name from the hill it occurs on. A 7 pound round of Double Gloucester cheese is rolled from the top of the hill by the Master of Ceremonies and an invited guest who releases it whilst sitting on the precipitous slope, and competitors race, tumble, and roll down the steep hill after it.
The first person over the finish line at the bottom of the hill wins the cheese. In theory, competitors are supposed to catch the cheese, but since it has a 1 second head start and can reach speeds up to 70 mph (112 km/h) — enough to knock over and injure a spectator as it did in 1997 — this rarely occurs.
It’s traditionally by and for the people of Brockworth — the local village — but the event has become more and more popular every year, with people now coming from all across the world to compete or even simply to watch.
The slope has a gradient of 1-in-2 in some areas, and 1-in-1 in others. The hill’s surface is very rough and uneven and it’s nearly impossible to remain on foot for the descent. Wet conditions reward the runners with a softer hill surface with a reduced chance of injury, whilst dry conditions make the ground harder for the fallers.
Due to the steepness and uneven surface of the hill there are usually a number of injuries, ranging from sprained ankles to broken bones and concussions. First aid service is on hand at the bottom of the hill, with a volunteer rescue group to carry down any casualties who don’t make their way to the bottom through gravity. There is invariably at least 1 and often several more injuries requiring hospital treatment every year.
Cooper’s Hill Cheese Rolling has been summarized as “20 young men chase a cheese off a cliff and tumble 200 yards to the bottom, where they are scraped up by paramedics and packed off to hospital.”
Photo Courtney Overseas
Patrick Rory McGrath descends the muddy slope in the Cheese Rolling Festival.
Photo Photon DJ8
Pictures never show the reality of the steepness of the hill, which towers menacingly above you when gazing upwards from the foot of the hill. It’s so steep that the rays of the sun rarely fall on the slope itself. The view from atop reveals the mountains in the distance which can be seen for miles. Looking downwards, the ground falls right away from you.
Accurate information is hard to come by, but the tradition is at least 200 years old. Suggestions have been made that the event may either date back to Roman times or may have been a pagan healing ritual, but there is no evidence for this.
Cooper’s Hill Cheese Rolling
Regatta of St Ranieri in Pisa, Italy
Pisa, Italy stages the Regatta of St Ranieri at the Palazzo Medici on June 17th each year in celebration of the patron saint of Pisa — a 1640 yard (1,500 meter) race up the River Arno consisting of 4 narrow rowboats, differently colored to represent the city’s 4 districts.
The boats are manned by 8 oarsmen, 1 steersman and a climber who must scramble up a 33-foot (10 meter) long rope to grab the Palio (flag) of victory at the finish line. The winners receive prizes in kind, particularly animals — an ox, a sheep, a pig, a rooster, and a gosling for the loser, which goes back to the origins of the competition in the 13th century when the races were disputed on land and in the water, generally on the feast of the Assumption..
The buildings along the Arno River are transformed for the Luminara into a fantastical fairyland setting on the eve of feast day of Saint Ranieri, the patron saint of Pisa on June 16th. Buildings and the parapets all along the river and bridges are illuminated with the flames of more than 70,000 lumini — small glass candle holders — while thousands more float on the waters of the river.
Candles are placed on white wooden sticks and placed on window ledges, rooftops and balconies to create whimsical designs, which thousands of people come every year to marvel.
Luminara, Pisa, Italy. Photo Teo Senbei
The colored boats represent the 4 historical quarters of the city districts of Pisa — the southern part of the city Saint Martin (white and red), Saint Anthony (white and green), the northern part Saint Mary (white and blue), and Saint Francis (white and yellow).
The Historic Regatta of Saint Ranieri occurs the next day, June 17th, when crews must row against the current on a 1,500 meter-long stretch of the River Arno starting upstream of the railway bridge to the finishing point in front of the Palazzo Medici. In order to maintain the ancient contest traditions, the competition has 2 peculiarities — the presence of the climber and the opportunity for the steersman to choose the best route.
The steersman may try to surpass the other boats in attempt to move to the left side of the river where the counter current is weaker, and to row in the inner and shorter part of the large curve of the stretch of the Arno River close to the town.
Final victory depends upon the montatore’s (climber’s) skill at the finishing line rather than arrival order of the boats, who has to climb up 1 of the 4 cables reaching the top of a 10-meter high mast hoisted on the boat in order to grasp the banner which is the symbol of the victory.
The victory actually depends upon the color of the triangular silk banner called a ‘paliotto’ that the climber brings down — blue is 1st place, white 2nd, and red 3rd place. A pair of goslings represents the meager prize for the last crew to finish.
The catch of banner represents the ancient exploits at Lepanto, when the fleet of the Knights of Saint Stephen boarded the Turkish flagship and stole the Muslim fight banner waiving on the mast of their boat. This banner is kept in the Church of Saint Stephen of the Knights in Pisa to this day.
The Annals of Pisa record that the first regatta was held during the Palio of Our Lady of the Assumption in 1292. After the city fall under the Florentine domination in 1406, the Regatta was only held from time to time. Following Florence’s conquest of Pisa in 1509, the event was abolished until 1635 when it was once more introduced for the feast of the Assumption and the rules were actually formalized.
The boats raced to celebrate Saint Ranieri for the first time in 1718 and not the Assumption. Since 1737 the finishing line of the Regatta — now known as Saint Ranieri’s — was set in the stretch of the river in front of Palazzo Medici, on request of the Duke of Montelimar while he was a guest in one of the palaces. The race was revived once again in 1935.
Luminara — Pisa, Italy
The week prior to and including Labor Day weekend (first Monday in September) marks the celebration of the Burning Man — a radical week of art, exhibitionism, parades and music that culminates with the incineration of the Burning Man, where flame-throwers regularly split the night sky in Black Rock City, Nevada.
The event is described by many as an experiment in community, radical self-expression, and radical self-reliance. It’s governed by the 10 commandments of Burning Man — radical inclusion, gifting, decommodification, radical self-reliance, radical self-expression, communal effort, civic responsibility, leaving no trace, participation, immediacy, and most importantly, participation.
Organizers have said, “Trying to explain what Burning Man is to someone who has never been to the event is a bit like trying to explain what a particular color looks like to someone who is blind.”
There are no rules except to never directly or indirectly interfere with someone else’s experience of the event.
Photo Ruthless Logic
People come to Burning Man to entertain each other, not to be entertained. It’s not a consumer event — no one is catering to you, so you must provide for your own survival. Nothing is provided by the event with the exception of portable toilets, with the only items for sale being ice, coffee and lemonade, as the LLC forbids any commerce aside from decommodification.
The event takes its name from its Saturday night ritual, the burning of a wooden effigy. The Man itself has remained close to 40 feet (12 meters) tall since 1989. Art is an essential ingredient of the festival with innovative sculpture, installations, performance, theme camps, art cars and costumes.
Participants are encouraged to express themselves in a number of ways through various art forms and projects. Clothing is optional and public nudity is common, though not practiced by the majority.
A main piece from burning man 2005. The back of the head was an entrance hole where
people squat in a circle inside to escape the heat. Photo Mike Love
Burning Man 2006. Photo Smoob
Burning Man 2007. Photo Perfecto Inspecto
Revelers are committed to a leave-no-trace event, striving to leave the area around them in better condition than before their arrival to ensure their participation doesn’t have a long-term impact or footprint on the environment.
But most impressive of all is the setting — a 100 mile (160 kilometer) lakebed known as the playa on which the temporary city of Black Rock City is constructed complete with roads, street signs, and cafes.
The annual event of Burning Man began as a bonfire ritual on June 21st in 1986 when Larry Harvey, Jerry James, and about 20 friends met on Baker Beach in San Francisco and burned an 8 foot (2.4 meter) wooden man and a smaller wooden dog which brought a crowd of onlookers — and the birth of a festival. Harvey has described his inspiration for burning the effigies as a spontaneous act of radical self-expression. The event has evolved into a 1-week experimental festival attracting 48,000 people to the Nevada desert.
Each year is based around a different theme, which is “The American Dream” for 2008.
The Durbar is an annual festival celebrated in several cities of Nigeria at the culmination of the 2 Muslim festivals, Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha, which takes place at the end of Ramadan in Katsina and Kano, Nigeria.
The festival dates back hundreds of years to times when the Emirate (state) in the north used horses in warfare. Each town, district, and nobility household was expected to contribute a regiment to the defense of the Emirate. Once or twice a year, the Emirate military chiefs invited the various regiments for a Durbar (military parade) for the Emir and his chiefs.
Durbar Square at night. Photo Yadavop
Beginning with prayers outside each town, a parade later ensues of the Emir dressed in ceremonial robes and his entourage on ornately dressed horses, accompanied by music players, muscle-bound wrestlers, and lute players in headdresses which ends at the public square in front of the Emir’s palace.
Each village group takes their assigned place before the Emir arrives last of all with his magnificent retinue. Groups of horsemen then race across the square at full gallop with swords drawn, then pass a few feet away from the Emir where they abruptly stop to salute him with raised swords and pay homage.
The last and most fierce riders are the Emir’s household and regimental guards — the Dogari. After the celebrations, the Emir and his chiefs retire to the palace, and merriment reigns into the night with drumming, dancing, singing, and small bands of Fulanis performing shadi, a spectacular show to behold.
Festes de La Merce
Barcelona’s largest annual festival dedicated to the patron Saint of Barcelona — the Virgin de la Merce — runs for 4 days around September 24th. Legend has it that the patron saint removed a tiresome plague of locusts that once visited the city. They have never returned, and some believe she still protects them to this day.
To honor her La Merce, the Mediterranean city has over 500 activities, parades, concerts, firework displays, air shows, a swimming race across the harbor, and a 6-mile (10 kilometer) run with most of events taking place in the city center of Barcelona.
Events include the parade of the giants and mythical figures of medieval Barcelona through the streets made up of gegants — giant wooden figures operated by people.
Photo John R Kerr
Photo John R Kerr
Photo Dr. Jaus
Photo Sam Kelly
One of the most notable highlights is a competition for which groups of people attempt to form the highest human tower. ‘Castellers’ in traditional costume climb on top of one another until they can hold no more, which often reaches around 8 levels. The best place to find these ‘human towers’ is in Placa de Sant Jaume.
Photo Sam Kelly
Festes de La Merce
Fiesta de Santo Tomas
Chichicastenango (Chichi) in Guatemala celebrates its patron saint with a week of one of South America’s largest annual festivities from December 13th with parades, traditional dances, and fireworks which culminates on December 21st (St Thomas’ Day) with the most spectacular and dramatic of dances — the Palo Volador.
Men — typically fortified by plenty of alcohol — scale a 100 foot (30 meter) wooden pole raised in the plaza beside the Iglesia de Santo Tomas and tie themselves to a rope attached to the top which is wrapped around their entire body. Some hang onto the rope with their hands while others tie it around their ankles. Then they jump, swirling around the pole perilously at high speeds with the ropes unraveling as they lower, spinning to the ground — sometimes to their death.
Fiesta de Santo Tomas is one of South America’s largest annual festivities running over 7 days in the lead up to Christmas — a unique blend of Mayan and Christian traditions, music, endless firecrackers, eating, and outrageous drinking.
The event is held to announce winter and the mythical Christmas messenger, Olentzero, with people travelling from all over Guatemala to this tiny town to join in an orgy of celebration and festivities.
Palo Volador Dancers. Photo Pampa
Palo Volador Dancer. Photo Pampa