With the start of festival season creating a buzz in Europe and America, I thought I’d be missing out this year in Congo. But then I came across South Africa’s version of the American Burning Man festival and thought why not? Now, how to describe AfrikaBurn? A festival, a temporary community set up in the desert, a vast week-long experiment of decommodification? The AfrikaBurn creators describe it as: “the spectacular result of the creative expression of participants who gather once a year in the Tankwa Karoo to create a temporary city of art, theme camps, costume, music and performance!”
A bit hippie and alternative for the average festival-goer you may think. But as a girl who moved to Congo with her boyfriend I am not the type to say no to something a bit different. So I and a group of friends headed to Cape Town (see previous blog) and after a few days of a more traditional holiday we collected our hired jeeps and headed out to Tankwa town and the desert.
It was a good five hour drive to the Karoo desert and the further away from we got from the city the drier and dustier the roads got. On entry to the National Park the roads got so bad you could barely see three metres in front of the car!
The scenery en route however was incredible. Flat plains were abruptly interrupted by jagged mountains that coursed across the landscape as if someone had taken a paintbrush to the earth and randomly swept out a path across it.
When we finally arrived at the site we were warmly welcomed by the staff and told us to get out of our cars for a quick welcome chat. We were led to a colossal bell named the ‘virgin bell’. This apparently was an essential initiation task for first timers before entering the park. As a group we all rang it together then were told to lay down and ‘embrace the ground’. Now we were all wearing our carefully coordinated outfits from Congo so the last thing I wanted to do was roll around in the dirt so I scampered away but a few people got involved!
Yes AfrikaBurn was definitely all about getting dressed up and expressing yourself, so my friends and I coming from Congo had decided to bring outfits from that portrayed this so we had all bought the same material and each had something made so we were fully coordinated. We got a lot of comments!
The next task was to find a space and set up camp. We had hired these amazing safari jeeps that came complete with tents, a fridge freezer, shower, solar panela and gas cookers It felt more like glamping really! At a festival where nothing was for sale however it was essential we came prepared. To display our Congolese identity to the full we erected a flag pole with the Congolese flag and extra pagne banners.
The next few days were spent wandering around the festival site and taking part in the many performances, installations and the general wonderful laid-back atmosphere that breezed through the desert.
There were a number of tents erected in a circle called ‘The Binnekring’ which included everything from a post office where you send a postcard anywhere in the world, music tents with fun-loving rock n roll bands, an ‘oh’limpix’ space for trying different sports, an adult playground with swings and even a cinema. For those who ran out of food and drink half way through the week, there were people handing out pancakes and pizza for free!
One of my favourite parts was the ‘mutant’ vehicles. Many creative people had driven and built their own vehicles to get across the desert and were allowed to continue their journey around the festival. There was everything from Hawaiian-themed motorbikes with palm trees and aquatic beetle cars to a fully-functioning gothic train and a rhino-shaped DJ car. Most of them played music and you could jump on and off them whilst they slowly moved around the campus day and night.
The whole concept of the event was ‘gifting’. There was nothing to buy apart from ice. You could receive gifts or give them in any shape or form. At first this seemed a bit daunting to me, how would the exchange dynamics work? but in the end it was very relaxed and you could participate in it as much or as little as you liked, giving anything from a hug to a friendship bracelet when and how you liked.
But why is it called Afrika ‘Burn’ you may ask? Dotted around the site were a few large and small wooden art installations. On each of the last three nights one or more of these structures was burnt in front of a captivated audience. The largest was a group of huge conical statues as tall as buildings and this for me was the climax. When they burnt the ‘Subterrafuge’ as it was aptly named, the sparks that fell from the sky made it seem as though it was snowing glowing flakes.
Overall it was an incredible, unique experience I will not easily forget. I can’t say I ‘found myself’ or it changed my life, but I definitely appreciated a break from the commercialised world we now live in. One of AfrikaBurn’s guiding principles is to ‘each one teach one’ so I hope with this blog I have done my bit and passed on their message to you. AfrikaBurn 2016: I’ll be there, will you?