INTRODUCTION AND ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
FESTAC ’77 was the largest Pan-African cultural gathering before or since 1977. The Nigerian government hosted more than 16,000 participants who came from all over Africa and the African Diaspora. They built a village of apartments to house the participants.
This website is a digital collection of FESTAC ’77. It presents the official documents handed to participants, some of the papers presented, video documentaries, and articles written about FESTAC. I was a U.S. delegate to the FESTAC Colloquium, so much of this material is from my personal archive. There is also considerable information gathered from various websites. We also present information on the legacy of FESTAC. On this basis we have to challenge the Nigerian government to make sure that the memory of FESTAC is secure. If any Nigerians visit this website I would encourage you to find out what is going on and push for positive developments.
We hope this website is useful for you. It is a pleasure to present it to you. We are grateful to the Chimurenga Library with its FESTAC collection (http://chimurengalibrary.co.za/festac-77). Another emerging source of great value is the African American Intellectual History Society (https://www.aaihs.org/about/). And the work of many more people is findable at WorldCat (https://www.worldcat.org/), Youtube, and via search engines.
But just imagine how much more information is available in the archives of all the FESTAC participants, including their recollections that have yet to be fully documented. I hope this website stimulates people to help document and further understand this historic event.
A number of international meetings starting in 1900 led to FESTAC ’77. These books are important background reading:
Michael A. Gomez, Reversing Sail: A History of the African Diaspora (2005)
Ronald Walters, Pan Africanism in the African Diaspora: An Analysis of Modern Afrocentric Political Movements (2000)
Hakim Adi and Marika Sherwood, The 1945 Manchester Pan-African Congress Revisited (1995)
Marika Sherwood, Origins of Pan-Africanism: Henry Sylvester Williams, Africa, and the African Diaspora (2011)
Hakim Adi, Pan-Africanism: A History (2018)
The great narrative of the 20th century has been the dialectic from colonization to the freedom struggle based on the self-organization of African peoples. These five moments are key:
1884-85: The Berlin conference where the European powers divided Africa amongst themselves. The United States was at the conference!
1914: the founding of the United Negro Improvement Association and the African Communities League led by Marcus Garvey
1945: The Fifth Pan African Congress that led to the anti-colonial struggle for national independence
1957: The liberation of Ghana and the emergence of Kwame Nkrumah as a global leader of Africa and the African Diaspora
1963: the establishment of the Organization of African Unity
GLOBAL PANAFRICAN MEETINGS
The Pan African Movement of the first half of the 20th century was mainly organized in the African Diaspora, not in Africa itself. The Pan African Congresses took place in Europe and the U.S.:
1921: London, Paris, and Brussels
1923: London and Lisbon
1927: New York
Here is a short video introduction to this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mn12bNvt1sY&feature=player_embedded
This process of global Pan African meetings took off again in 1956 in Paris, hosted by Presence Africaine, a cultural organization with a journal, publishing house, and bookstore. Here is a documentary video https://tinyurl.com/yb3plpeo and an article https://tinyurl.com/y7hr858j.
The 2nd conference by the Paris organizers was held in Rome in 1959. Presence Africaine published the proceedings of both conferences. https://tinyurl.com/yb2c4ych.
The next major meeting took place in Africa! Presence Africaine’s best connection in Africa was with Senegal through their leader Leopold Senghor. He took the lead in organizing a Pan African Festival in the Senegal capital of Dakar in 1966. There are documentary videos:
Part 1: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q0d572P8U3I
Part 2: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jrl9l9qOhx4
The next Pan African Festival was in Algiers in 1969. This William Klein video documents the event: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DaPLGDSigzU.
The next major international festival was FESTAC in 1977. Before discussing FESTAC itself, note that after FESTAC, many more global events took place, including more Pan African Congresses (https://alchetron.com/Pan-African-Congress). An important process was the annual London-based International Bookfair of Radical Black and Third World Books and its festival, with the lead organizers John La Rose and Sarah White. Their New Beacon Books was a publishing house and the first Black bookshop in England.
FESTAC was not in line with the pro-Negritude approach of the 1966 Dakar festival, nor was it as political as the 1969 Algiers festival. Nigeria has the largest population of all African countries, and it has oil as the engine of its national economy. Nigerians are the largest contributor to populating the African Diaspora. It seemed logical that Nigeria would play such a role as host for FESTAC ’77.
The international festival planners divided the world into zones and recruited coordinators for each zone. Two major struggles defined how the festival developed. In Nigeria there were many issues around the budget and how it would be utilized. Nigeria had and has a stark class structure with both superrich and destitute poor. In the Diaspora, issues of representation were key, especially the contradiction between the official governments of the African Diaspora, bearing colonial legacies, and the African-descendent artistic communities.
One critical issue was the refusal of the British government to loan the Benin royal mask carved of ivory that was chosen as the FESTAC symbol. It portrayed the Iyoba, or Queen Mother, of Benin. They claimed to fear it would not be returned. The Nigerian government then had a local sculptor craft a replica. Part of the tragic legacy of FESTAC is that the artist was never paid for this. See the artist’s link on the Legacy page for more information on this.
The U.S. delegation was led by Jeff Donaldson and Hoyt Fuller, both veterans of the Chicago Black Arts Movement. A major event was the Wall of Respect created by OBAC (Organization of Black American Culture), an organization that Donaldson and Fuller helped lead (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b6P0DqI-B4Y). Hoyt was an editor (Negro Digest/Black World/First World) and Jeff became head of the Art Department at Howard University. A massive US delegation was organized covering every major art, both artists and historians/critics. (For a partial list of participants see https://www.facebook.com/festac77archive/posts/all-of-the-festac-77-images-have-been-digitized-and-made-into-work-prints-art-hi/1525977327696048/.)