It is true that most festivals are usually born as a celebration of people’s way of life, traditions, cultural values and sometimes religious beliefs. Yet sometimes, the inspiration for a festival evolves from certain situations that serves as a memorial to a significant event, and with time the celebration grows bigger as the years roll by. Such is the case with Le Festival National de Gungu (FESNAG).
Interestingly, the festival was initiated as far back as 1925 in commemoration of la Fête Nationale Belge (Belgian National Day). Known then as Luvidi, a Pende word which denotes festivities or celebration, the event brought several artistes and entertainers to Gungu, in the Bandundu Province about 600km from Kinshasa, every 21st of July.
The national day of Belgium was established by law in 1890 in recognition of the event of July 21, 1831 when Leopold of Saxe-Cobourg swore allegiance to the new Belgian constitution and became the first King of the Belgians. The celebration was instituted and observed in the Congo as a colony of Belgium.
FESNAG: Authentic African Celebration
Despite the colonial roots, the Gungu National Festival is a genuine African festival and the most colorful spectacle in the country, celebrating her rich cultural diversity. It suffered a long hiatus from 1960 until 1998 when it was resuscitated by Kibala Malungi of the Secret Art of Pende as Festival de Gungu (Gungu Festival).
Gungu is the home of the Pende people estimated at over a million in living in the south savanna forest. An interesting tribe of diverse talent in handicrafts who have maintained the customs and traditions of their ancestors, the Pende have like much of Congo have been exploited with several of their sculptures and artwork taken away to Belgium.
During the festival which lasts between five to seven days, secret initiation rites are performed for boys into adulthood, which includes learning to weave raffia costumes. Spirits of the ancestors are summoned to intermingle with the living and give guidance. Emblems of the occasion include the famous Minganji circumcision masks.
Costumes are usually elaborate and colorful with face paintings and body art, headgears and masks, and animal representations, as well as stilts. The festival draws people from all over the country as various troops and performers from all the tribes come to participate. In addition, different cultural troops from other African countries, as well as other nations like India and China have attended the festivals.
In 2008, it was institutionalized as a national festival and is now held outside Gungu in any other part of the country in an even year, while it still takes place in Gungu in every odd year. Also, the dates are fixed without special attention to July 21st anymore.
This year’s event will be in two phases, at two places. The first phase will feature the festivities from the 8th to the 12th in Gungu, while the second phase takes place in Kikwit from the 13th to the 15th as part of a scientific symposium on traditional culture.
For more information about Le Festival National de Gungu (FESNAG), please visit: