It is clear that the people of Sierra Leone are longing for our traditional celebrations of festive joy. It has been close to five years now since the government put an indirect stop to public street celebrations: for instance; no lantern parade, no devil masquerade or massive independent day parade. Restricting these big cultural celebrations has almost sent the nation into a sad corner. It is the view of many citizens that if the President does not see these cultural festivities as personally relevant, he should still allow them to take place annually, because it is important to the culture of the populace and plays an economic role.
What such festivals do is that they help to spread happiness, joy and build bonds between people. Festivals are an expressive way to celebrate our glorious heritage, culture and traditions. They are meant to mark special moments and emotions in our lives with our loved ones, and have a direct economic impact, courtesy of the additional expenditure from visitors and residents in the holding of such events, not to talk of the often high inflow of tourists and Sierra Leoneans from the diaspora to grace such events. In the past, festivals were the kind of entertainment that enhances harmony, and a platform for people to archive, preserve and pass down traditional cultural identities to the next generation. It is a way to ensure our long-lasting and harmonious cultural memories last a lifetime.
When a date is set for a BIG celebration like the Legendary ‘EASTERN PADDLE’, for example, huge funds are ploughed into the celebration, as thousands of people, both in and out of the country, take part. Its economic impact cannot be overemphasized, as PADDLE is once a year event that brings people from abroad and in-country together to celebrate their culture. The economic chain reaction of this event starts from the day the Paddle organization sets the date for the event: an outfit (aka ashobee) for the event is identified by the organisers, a memo is then sent to some five or ten sister organizations within the western area, and more invitations to group in the provinces with the date, time and outfit chosen for the event. As a once in a year event, many people desire to be part of the event and these wear the outfit (ashobee) for the Paddle celebration; also other groups chose outfits to distinguish them from the general outfit, thereby identifying their respective organisations.
In order to ensure availability of the outfits, the Paddle organizers inform wholesalers and retailers of the different outfits to be ordered for the event, which in effect enhances their sales. From the shops of retailers, tailors are consulted to sew the outfits, which also provide another source of revenue for them. In some cases, some celebrants decide to make shoes from the materials they are going to be using during the festival, thereby providing jobs for shoemakers. All these are cash driven activities that are clearly good for the economy. Other economic activities associated with the festival include the hiring of local musicians like Goombay drum, Bubu and other musical groups to play at the event, with some such experts being hired from the provinces, and this demands transportation, feeding and lodging. All these contribute to the development of the economy.
On the day of the celebration more business transactions take place for individual petty traders. Example, many young people will sell local food to the crowd while they celebrate, things like cold drinks & water, fried pan cake, groundnut cake, dough-nuts, fruits, bread, ginger cake, ginger bear, alcohol and souvenirs like hat, t-shorts, head band, wrist band, etc. This is a big moment for economic activity, revenue generation, reduction of stress, interaction between politicians and citizens, improve social harmony, enhancing a sense of oneness among citizens, both from the diaspora and the home based. Thus, the observance of this celebration enhances business and fosters better relationships between citizens.
What this shows is that such events are not only good for the economy, but also good for the social health of the people and good for the economic health of the country. These contemporary social activities temporarily divert attention from the hardship in the country, and could be a very good campaign tool to unite residents in the country. During the preparation of this event, you can sense peace, love and harmony in the air, euphoria in the city, the local people cannot wait for the big day, and the Flurry of activities taking place, with people traveling to Freetown from all over the country to witness the event. The local youths practice songs in the neighborhoods and marketplaces like Bombay market, Dove Cut market, Ma-Bay-La Market, Karni-Kay Wharf, Big Wharf, Fourah-Bay and Magazine wharf. National unity is attained on such occasions, as less time is given to thought about politics.
For any foreign visitor witnessing this event, it will have a mind-blowing experience, and has the potential to attract more visitors to the country, as well as defuse the tension that has been created by politics.