So you thought Halloween was an all American affair? You are wrong. Namibians across all racial lines have embraced celebrations of this Celtic festival that’s more than 2 000 years old. This is even though Christians – and according to statistics most Namibians are Christians – are supposed to regard Halloween as a heresy.
Interestingly Halloween, celebrated on October 31, is increasingly becoming an important date in many African cities and urban areas. For instance the city of Kampala, in Uganda, now has a vibrant Halloween celebratory culture.
The origin of Halloween can be traced to Samhain (pronounced sow-in, which rhymes with cow-in), which was an ancient Celtic festival that was celebrated in what is now Great Britain to mark the end of harvest time and the beginning of the new year. The two-day celebration began at sundown on October 31. The ancient Celts believed that the veil between the worlds of the living and the dead was at its thinnest during Samhain, thereby making it a good time to communicate with the deceased and to divine the future.
Samhain is Gaelic for “summer’s end,” a day to bid good-bye to warmth and light as day length shortens.
Windhoek had an early Halloween party two weeks ago at one of the popular hangout spots. When New Era Weekend asked the patrons what they thought is the meaning of Halloween, the answer was: “It is when people wear crazy attires and drink lots of beer, all in the name of fun.”
Despite the connection of the celebration of Halloween to ancestral worship, it is unlikely that the demographic that attends Halloween parties in African cities are into the habit of African ancestral worship as is known. They probably look down on such, and term it “witchcraft” and other derogatory labels.
Some scholars have gone as far as to describe the African Halloween celebrations as “a typical consumerist activity where a certain elite in African societies – known for their penchant for consuming everything manufactured in the West – come out in their numbers, donning typical Halloween costumes, but essentially use the date as an excuse to party away.”
These sentiments were echoed by the Namibian public who spoke to New Era Weekend on the celebration of Halloween in Windhoek.
“It is so hypocritical the way we are killing our beliefs, traditions and cultures to buy into anything that comes from outside Africa. Even if that thing goes against everything we once believed in, it doesn’t matter as long as it comes from the white man’s land. Our people will not only accept it but will practise it even more fervently than the originators,” said one young person.
But Ndeshi Kadhikuwa – who was found wearing her Halloween costume at the party – while agreeing with the consumerism sentiments, also had this to say:
“While the celebration of Halloween in Windhoek says a lot about personal liberty and the liberal mantra of individual freedom is important for Africa, something needs to be said about turning Africa into a field for cultural export, and of Africans turning into consumers of everything and not producers of anything.”
“True exchange involves sharing and mutual respect. It is thus important to think about the reasons that inform our celebration of Halloween, beyond the ‘we wanna have fun’ mantra,” says Kadhikuwa.
“We need to think about the culture we produce and whether globalisation provides us with space to exchange with others on a level-playing field. Those who do not produce should not consume, but banning their consumption is to use a sledgehammer to swat a mosquito,” she said of Halloween. Kadhikuwa had come to the Halloween party with her friend Idda Shikangala.
One patron, Udeni ‘Token’ Kafidi, simply found the question ridiculous. “How one uses one’s free time is no one else’s business… As long as it is not illegal,” Kafidi said as he pulled off his Halloween mask.
Interestingly the American Halloween tradition of ‘trick-or-treating’, which probably dates back to the early All Souls Day parades in England, is hardly copied anywhere in Africa, and certainly not in Namibia.
he tradition of dressing in costume for Halloween has both European and Celtic roots. The evening before October 31 is known as All Hallows’ Eve, the origin of the American word Halloween.
The question remains: Can contemporary celebration of Halloween in African cities ever be called an African practice?
One thing is for certain, Namibians who celebrate Halloween don’t regard it as “juju”, evil, or a cult practice.
Halloween might have come from “the whites”, but Ghanaians, Namibians and other Africans have embraced it.
DON”T BE AFRAID… Halloween party goers Cordelia Kessler, Sue Niewoudt and Zean Zee made a big effort to dress up.