Six Foreign Festivals: Performers and Spectators

Jasper Rand Art Museum, Westfield, MA




Approximately 40 color photographs feature six festivals worldwide: Naadam in Mongolia; Timkat in Ethiopia; different Sing Sings in Papua New Guinea; Holi in India; Tscechu in Paro, Bhutan; and a Dogon Funeral Dance in Mali, West Africa.

Whether a particular festival is based on religion, ancestral tradition or athletic skill, Dane often finds the spectators just as interesting as the performers/participants. Many of these events double as the annual social event, bringing out the very young to the elderly. Festivals are “people-watching” at its best. While performers may wear costumes and masks, fine velvet liturgical robes or adornments found in nature, spectators may range from wearing their colorful traditional clothes and jewelry to Sunday best to tee shirts and jeans.

The Naadam Festival in Mongolia features wrestling, horse racing and archery. Women athletes compete in all but wrestling. Games are held throughout the country during the midsummer holidays, but the biggest festival takes place in the capitol city, Ulaanbaatar, during the National Holiday from July 11-13.

Timkat in Ethiopia is a three-day festival beginning on January 19th celebrating the Baptism of Christ in the Jordan River. In churches all over the country, the tabots, replicas of the Ark of the Covenant, are removed from the altar and carried in procession to a nearby body of water. Throughout the night the priests and faithful hold vigil over the tabot. In the morning, the water is blessed and a ritual baptism takes place involving everyone who wants to take part. Finally, the tabot is paraded back to the church with pomp and ceremony.

In Papua New Guinea, Sing Sings are gatherings of one or a few tribes or villages to celebrate events and share festivities. Large or small, they take place often and everywhere. Young and old participate by playing traditional instruments, singing, making themselves up, and donning decorative costumes made from shells, animal skins, exotic bird feathers, grass, leaves and just about anything else that nature could possibly provide. With Sing Sings, there are no spectators – everyone is a performer!

Traditionally a harvest festival and also a celebration of the beginning of spring two days of Holi are celebrated in India on the last full day of the lunar month Phalunga, usually toward the end of February and into March. Propriety is disbanded and everyone goes wild as dyed water is shot from syringes, squirted from balloons and flung about in torrents. Age, gender, caste and social standing have no place during Holi. Nothing is sacred and no one is spared.

Religion and social life are inextricably linked in Bhutan and the best way to see the best of Bhutanese cultural is at a Tsechu festival. Tsechu commemorates the 8th century Tantric Master, Guru Rimpoche. Buddhist dharma is reenacted as both monks and lay people don colorful masks and costumes of both vengeful and compassionate deities, heroes, demons, and animals. The actors ask for good luck which the onlookers hope to receive.

The Dogon in Mali are an ethnic group which has kept their traditional way of life and remain largely non-Muslim. They are best known for their architecture, wooden sculpture, and religious traditions. Dogon mask dances are the highlight of their traditional funeral rituals, or damas, in which souls of the departed are led to their final resting places.

“Festivals really bring out the pulse of the culture and the best of all who participate,” says Dane, an avid traveler who has visited over 90 countries so far. Wherever she goes and whatever landscape, art or architecture she experiences, it’s the people who never cease to fascinate the Longmeadow native.


Dogon Funeral Dance, Mali


Holi, Kolkata, India


Naadam, Mongolia


Sing Sings, Papua New Guinea


Tsechu, Bhutan


Timkat, Ethiopia

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