Tuesday, December 2, 2008

The Kenema Trade Fair/Kenema Cacao Show

The Kenema Trade Fair (also known as the Kenema Agricultural Fair or Show or The Cacao Show in the 1980's)each December was a wonderful celebration of commerce, agriculture, and culture in the area. Kenema was the capital of the Eastern Province. Certainly a lot of cacao or cocoa/coffee was grown in the area - it was, and probably still is an important cash crop. I do remember visiting a cacao plantation out on Dama Road on the way to Foindu Nongowa where B.S. Massaquoi had a large plantation and was using modern methods to grow coffee. B.S. Massaquoi was an important man in Kenema (see my story about Allieu B. Massaquoi - his son). In addition to being a minister of parliament he was interested in expanding his interest in modern agricultural techniques. At the age of 76, during the recent war, he and a number of other important men in Kenema were killed by rebels.
The Cacao Show was a multicultural celebration for the area in which each ethnic group had the oppertunity to show something about itself in celebration of the many cultures that were living in the Kenema area. The Fulas would play their music in song and do their well-known acrobatic dancing - all while in their traditional dress. There would be music from all the groups including the Temne, the Loko, the Limba, the Mandingo and Susu, and of course the Mende - the prdominant ethnic group in the area. For Kenema it was an important festival and a time for celebration. During the day - many a Spirit (Devil) was out and about - and it was possible while walking in the streets of Kenema to come across either a celebration of singing and music, or a devil that was passing about. I believe the headquarters for the fair was in or near the government quarters where at the height of the festival a very large crowd of 10,000 or so would gather to watch and listen, or to celebrate. When times were peaceful this was a wonderful fair. One year when there had been trouble in the area the festival was cancelled due to fears that such a large gathering might lead to fighting. My biggest challenge was the hot sun which if I wasn't careful might give me a terrible sunburn. On the day or two that I might be out from morning to night the sun could be quite a threat by mid-day if I wasn't careful. I do remember there being a lot of soldiers at the fair and at one point I remember there being some trouble that resulted in some of the soldiers pushing and shoving the audience, this resulting in a near panic of some of the crowd. I remember coming across a soldier beating some people with his rifle - I was not sure if it was loaded. A few of us were able to convince him to back off and nothing really came of it. However my most vivid memories are of the wonderful, celebratory atmosphere that was in Kenema during the fair. For me it was a time to see and hear so many new things. It was the unusual time when all the ethnic groups were together and showing their stuff with pride. It was a chance to see this all in Kenema. That is not to say that I didn't have lots of opportunity to hear the wonderful traditional music. In the area where we lived in Kenema (the Dama Road section) many a full-moon was accompanied by singing and playing of percussion instruments. Nearby us there was a Loko group that one full moon had a wonderful celebration of singing by men. I remember Susan and I going out to listen (they lived across from us and toward town). Their singing was accompanied by some of the most powerful drumming that I have ever heard. There was also accompaniment by a percussed metal instrument that knocked out the beat with the drums. The drumming was so powerful that it was dizzying. The singing was beautiful. The harmony was breath-taking. There were other nights of singing on Mama Hokey's veranda at #55 Dama Road. Often led by our neighbor Bonya who had a wonderful voice, this harmony and song was eerily and hauntingly beautiful as she would sing of how hard Bundu was (Hey Bundu Nyamungo eh) and the group of women there would respond to each of her leads. My sense was that deep down people in the area loved to sing, and were especially and rightfully proud of their music. My sense also was that the reason there wasn't more of this was due to politics and peoples fears in this regard. However when people got in the mood for singing I found the music and song the most beautiful.

a Mende group at the Kenema Cacao Show - 1969 In this picture a man is playing the Mende slit-drum known as the Kellei.

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