Celebrating our Creativity through the Kwagh-hir Festival:

Towards a Strategic A-Z Approach for Economic Development of Benue State


Barclays Foubiri Ayakoroma, PhD



The theme of this year’s festival is “Celebrating our Creativity.” However, I have decided to focus on the potentials of the Kwagh-hir festival in the economic development of Benue State. It explains why I have titled my presentation: “Celebrating our Creativity through the Kwagh-hir Festival: Towards a Strategic A-Z Approach for Economic Development of Benue State.” The A-Z Model is what I have conceptualised through my involvement and practical experience, over the years, in the handling of festivals and other artistic events. It is hoped that, adopting the model in the organisation of cultural festivals will be invaluable to events managers.

In the first place, let us look at our conceptual framework by first defining just two of the terms from the title, namely, celebrating and creativity. The New Lexicon Webster’s Dictionary of the English Language defines celebrate thus: “to perform (a religious ceremony) publicly… to honour or observe (some special occasion or event)… to seize an occasion for being festive” (158). But the Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary defines the word in a more lucid way: “to take part in special enjoyable activities in order to show that a particular occasion is important…” (191). It is interesting to note that some key words from the two dictionaries again crop up: perform, publicly, honour, observe, occasion, event, festive, special, enjoyable, activities, and important. All of the foregoing terms are essentials in cultural festivals.

Again, The New Lexicon Webster’s Dictionary of the English Language defines creativity as, one having an idea of creativeness. To be creative means having the quality or power of creating or being imaginative. The Cambridge Advance Learner’s Dictionary goes further to state that creative means, “producing or using original and unusual ideas: a creative person, artist, designer, programmer, creative talents, powers, abilities and creative thinking;” and that creativity means the “ingenuity and flair” in a person or people.  

From the definitions proffered above, we can quickly deduce that, if we are celebrating our creativity, it means that we are publicly performing or observing an important, special and enjoyable occasion or event, full of festive activities to honour a cultural practice. In other words, the occasion of the Kwagh-hir festival is a platform conceptualised by the Benue State Ministry of Arts, Culture and Tourism to showcase the indigenous theatrical art, which is special, ingenuous, and entertaining. It is an artistic activity, which has the potentials of making Benue State a tourism hub, once the enabling environment is sustained. This is where the A-Z Model being postulated in this paper becomes imperative. In any case, we shall come to that later in this presentation. Let us first take a brief look at cultural festivals.

Cultural Festivals

In the first place, culture has been defined as “the totality of the way of life of a people,” including their foods, dressing, language, music, dances, occupational distribution, building, and so on. Secondly, the ways of life are the cultural markers that differentiate one group of people from another. For instance, the Tiv, Idoma, and the Igede people in Benue State have linguistic differences – they do not speak one language. We have also observed that the three ethnic groups have distinct dress patterns. This explains the generally acknowledged position that culture gives a people a unique identity. The implication here is that, if you lose your culture, you inexplicably lose your identity. It underscores the saying that, a people without a culture are a people lost.

Let us state here that, cultural festivals are one of the vital media through which people express and celebrate their culture. These are events that are organised to commemorate harvests, betrothals, initiations, coronations, foundation days, funerals, and long-standing communal traditions. Most times, such celebrations centre on ancestral veneration and worship of deities, as well as rites of passages. Duruaku writes about the essence of cultural festivals thus:

One of the main basic impulses of man is the ‘herd instinct,’ the inclination to come together in a spirit of communitas and share in mutual fears, sorrows and indeed joys. Put simply, communitas is an intense community spirit; it is the feeling of great social equality, solidarity, and togetherness. It is that spirit which allows the whole of the community to share a common experience (3).

He goes on to categorise cultural festivals thus:

Those that are for ancestor veneration and deity worship, like the Eyo of the Yoruba, (the forerunner of the modern day carnival in Brazil), or the Owu and Odo of the Igbo. Durbar Festival (Katsina State) is a magnificent horsemanship display. There are also festivals of the rites of passages, like those involving initiation, festivals of the feast of the farming cycle, the folk festivals which are largely social (11).

We have noted, elsewhere that, culture is the vehicle that drives tourism. It is the product, which we have in abundant supply in Nigeria; and many states, like Akwa Ibom, Cross River, Lagos, Niger, Ondo, Osun, Plateau, Rivers and Taraba, are now making conscious efforts to boost their internally generated revenue (IGR) through the promotion of cultural tourism. As a point of fact, cultural tourism, as an aspect of tourism, embodies historical sites and places, people’s cultures, art forms as well as sharing their social, political, and economic experiences at least during the visit (see Doki 122-129). This explains why various states are embarking on the development of unique tourism products. This explains why the Calabar Carnival, the Badagry Slave Route, the Obudu Ranch, the Yankari Game Reserve, and the Osun Oshogbo Grove/Festival, have become unique tourism products, recognised mostly in African, South America and the Caribbean.

The Kwagh-hir Festival

Benue State, “the food basket of the nation,” possesses a rich and diverse cultural heritage, which finds expression in the colourful cloths, exotic masquerades, sophisticated music and dances of the people. Dances like Ingyough, Ange, Anchanakupa and Swange are popular among the Tiv while there are Anuwowowo and Obadaru among the Idoma. Kwagh-hir theatre is one of such rich cultural displays in Benue State that celebrate the inherent creativity of the people and has immense economic benefits.  

However, let me quickly point out here that, I do not have the authority to profess about Kwagh-hir theatre, particularly to the inventors and custodians of the creative art. It will be saying one is more proficient in use of English than the owners of the English language. I say this because the first professor of Theatre Arts from the whole of Northern Nigeria, Professor Shamsudeen O. O. Amali, is from Benue State. Secondly, the first person to carry out very extensive research work to draw attention to Kwagh-hir theatre, Professor Iyorwuese Hagher, is another proud son of Benue State. His seminal work, The Kwagh-hir Theatre: A Metaphor of Resistance has been a ready source book for critical studies on Kwagh-hir. Thirdly, we have very distinguished theatre professors like Charity Angya, James Alachi, Saint Gbilekaa, Idris Amali, Tor Iorapuu, Ameh Dennis Akoh, Ama Gowon Doki, Kwaghkondo Agber, and many others, from Benue State, who have contributed immensely to studies on Kwagh-hir theatre. But come to think of it; if you ask me, I will say they have no option, because, if you do not tell your stories, nobody can tell them very well for you

A personal interaction with some young ones revealed that they have no idea of Kwagh-hir. If they have knowledge of the dynamics of Kwagh-hir, they can definitely not be apostles of the festival celebrating it. I became aware of Kwagh-hir around 1981, when Frank Speed (our lecturer in Film Production at the University of Calabar then), did a documentary on it with Peggy Harper. (A part of the footage of that production is still on YouTube).

The brief background of Kwagh-hir theatre here is informed by the realisation that, the younger generation is adequately informed about this veritable “weapon of social action,” as Don Rupin puts it. According to Iyorwuese Hagher, Kwagh-hir dates back to the early 20th century in the lives of the Tiv people. Rupin points out that, the stories of the performances are as simple and straightforward as possible: farmers farming, family’s passing on traditions, men and women working, but “coded with particular Tiv inflections speaking to those who understood the deeper notions of cultural independence.”

As a point of fact, Iyorwuese Hagher avers that, the Kwagh-hir theatre can be located in the history and traditions of the Tiv people, adding that it origin can be said to be in three phases, the foremost it being rooted in the storytelling tradition of the people. The storyteller used symbols, costumes and props in enacting his stories, just as he acts out, mimes and dances to give life to his acts (Hagher 51; see also Akinsipe ).

Edith Enem points out that, Kwagh-hir performances usually take place in the night, serving as entertainment for the people; and that they draw large audiences. The various instrumentsused during the performances also showcase historical events and the rich culture of the Tiv people. She adds that, Kwagh-hir has survived to the present day despite attempts by opposing factions to use it to aggravate social disharmony. To Enem, this existence is attributable to its elastic nature and the people’s passion for dance and drama. The Kwagh-hir theatre continues to display those situations, attitudes and social behaviours, which are found both in Tiv land and universal human conditions (Enem 249-251). Put succinctly, Kwagh-hir provides memorable entertainment in its dramatisation of Tiv folklore and social commentary.

Discussing the sculptural elements in Kwagh-hir, Elizabeth Nyager observes that it is a dynamic theatre, a puppet theatre featuring both giant puppets (ubermeronmettes) and smaller ones, which are manipulated on mobile platforms, adding that,

Kwagh-hir features masquerade displays of both animal and human representations. The mask is therefore an important feature of Kwagh-hir theatre and sculpturing an equally dynamic super-activity/element in Kwagh-hir theatre.

In “Globalization and Folk-Media,”Nyager further notes that, Kwagh-hir theatre, as folk-media, is a popular theatre existing in rural communities of the Tiv kingdom in Benue state. It is an art form, which comprises music, dance, drama, folk-lore, existing within the cultural practices of ethnic communities. The theatre is based on the dramatization of folk tales; it simply breaths of dramatic life into fictional characters. She emphasises that, in Kwagh-hir theatre, either dance or any of the arts involved can stand as a message in the performance to express the people’s culture.

However, Ama Gowon Doki looks at the Kwagh-hir theatre from the perspective of its cultural tourism potentials in Nigeria, which, he says, rightly, is enormous. According to him, apart from the actual theatrical performance of Kwagh-hir, the artistic finesse of the puppets and masquerades could easily attract tourists. Furthermore, the skill and dexterity of fine artists and carvers of the Kwagh-hir totems could be developed into finely constructed artefacts used for exterior and interior decorations. These items, if collected for art exhibitions and carnival displays, could be purchased, thus, attracting foreign earnings. He surmises that, with the level of Kwagh-hir theatre today on the tourism map, it could attract both local and international tourists if it is transformed as a national festival. The implication is that, it will receive elaborate publicity, thereby boosting the economic base of Nigeria’s tourism sector and the country at large.

The Dynamics of Cultural Festivals

At this juncture, it is necessary to look at some of the services that people can seamlessly carry out during cultural festivals without actually being part of the official organising committee. The discourse here will be in relation to the present context.

  1. Airport shuttles: Apparently, some guests flew to Abuja or Enugu and were picked up from to attend this programme. There may have also been charter flights to the Makurdi Airport, especially by those who have the means. Some persons are smiling to the bank.
  2. Inter- and intra-city transportation: Transporters have been busy because of the influx of visitors.
  3. Hotel accommodation and other lodging facilities: Hotels are being tested as to whether they have adequate facilities and can deliver quality services.
  4. Volunteer security services: Apart from the organised security committee for the festival, some youths volunteer their services to provide security for contingents or individuals, even at parking lots.
  5. Retail of food and drinks: There is no gainsaying that, foods and drinks vendors are having a field day, as sales have gone up due to the number of persons that have thronged into the state.
  6. Electronic and print media publicity: Publicity channels utilised for the festival have generated attendant revenue for the media organs.
  7. Unofficial tour guides: Like volunteer security services, some youths have found useful employment as tour guides, whether solicited or unsolicited.
  8. Production and sale of arts and crafts: The production of arts and craft works is not restricted to the festival committee. Artisans can conceptualise and produce various items to commemorate the festival.
  9. Production and sale of indigenous dresses: Fashion designers come out with different designs of indigenous dresses and accessories for sale during festivals, from local, national, to modern or Western styles.
  10. Printing of posters, flyers, banners, T-shirts, face caps, and other souvenirs: Like the arts and crafts productions, souvenirs or gift are produced at the discretion of professional artists and artisans.
  11. Photo and video services: Documentation services, especially instant photographic services have become ubiquitous in major events. The old school Polaroid cameras have given way to the modern digital photos that could be printed in a minute or two. As a point of fact, ladies love it; because they would always want to record how they looked at such events.

Kwagh-hir Festival and Economic Development

From the foregoing, we could safely posit that there are several benefits accruable in celebrating the creativity in festivals, like Kwagh-hir. This is to make it a special brand for it to contribute significantly to the economicdevelopment of Benue State. These include, but not limited to, the following:

  1. Fast-track infrastructure development in communities: The saying goes that, “Every greatness requires preparation.” There is no doubt that the Benue State government gave face-lift to certain facilities in preparation of this festival.
  2. Expose the indigenes to people from outside such communities: Many persons are coming to “the food basket of the nation” for the first time; and they get to appreciate the places, people and the culture.
  3. Provide gainful employment for youths in the community: Several youths have found gainful employment through the instrumentality of the Kwagh-hir festival. Some of the avenues through which they could have productively engaged themselves this year have been enumerated above.
  4. Attract visitors (tourists) to such communities: Tourists have been attracted to Benue State because of the Kwagh-hir festival; they would not have come now but for this festival.
  5. Create peaceful atmosphere: Cultural festivals guarantee peaceful co-existence. In most traditional settings, the villagers are told not to go to farm or fish; not to fight during the festival, and so on. In fact, people are fined if they breached the peace or contravened the laws guiding such celebrations. We all know that meaningful development cannot take place in an atmosphere of chaos.
  6. Build relationships between tourists and the indigenes: This festival provides a veritable platform for building and cultivating relationships. Such long-standing relationships lead to sustainable development.
  7. Make tourists to be ambassadors of the host communities: The saying goes that, “Seeing is believing.” Some persons may have had certain negative perceptions about Benue State. Such perceptions change once they encounter the people; and they eventually become worthy ambassadors of such communities once they return to their destinations.
  8. Enhance investment opportunities: As people troop to a festival destination, they see opportunities for investments and capitalise on such.
  9. Boost the local economy: With the flurry of medium and small scale retail businesses, the local economy is boosted. We cannot easily quantify the sachets of pure water, bottles of water, minerals, alcoholic drinks, and so on, that have been guzzled during this period. Hotels have been fully booked, and food vendors are making brisk businesses. Their prayers would be that this kind of event should be organised as often as possible.
  10. Boost internally generated revenue (IGR): A corollary to (i) above is that, ideally, the IGR of the state will increase. Transporters, hoteliers, fast food eateries, beverages companies, fashion designers, up to media houses make appreciative profits; and they equally pay tax to government, providing the necessary machinery has been put in place to effectuate that.
  11. Bring such communities to national or international attention: With appropriate publicity, festivals bring the host communities to the public sphere, nationally or internationally, depending of the scope. What we are experiencing today is a classic example.
  12. Give the organisers sense of pride and ethnic identity: Once a festival takes place successfully, the organisers have a sense of pride and identity. They are exhilarated that they played host to the numerous visitors to the community, hoping that the next outing will be better.

A Strategic A-Z Model in Festival Branding

It is necessary to underscore the point that, the challenge facing festival organisers is how to enhance their contributions to the economic development of host communities or states. Thus, they are perceived as mere jamborees, devoid of any seriousness. This is where the A-Z Model we are postulating here becomes invaluable. For purpose of clarity, let us briefly highlight the model.

  1. Acquire a unique quality: Strategically develop a festival that is unique, that has an identity. Doing the usual things others do produces the usual results. There is need to strategically conceptualise a unique quality that differentiates the festival from other brands.
  2. Business plan: Evolve a business plan for the festival. There is need to come out with a concrete business plan to position the festival very well and evolve proper artistic programme strategies that can make the festival stand the test of time.
  3. Create an event protocol: Formalising the process of registration of the festival will create room for corporate investments and access to corporate funding by government, financial institutions, non-profit organisations/foundations or donor agencies. This will entail designing and managing a website to factor into the global information highway.
  4. Develop partnerships with stakeholders: Partnerships in the hospitality industry will reduce some of the burden on the organisation process. This also means involving opinion leaders and the youths in the host community, even if they are not directly involved in the programme planning.
  5. Exploit various avenues for endorsements: Getting some endorsements from relevant government agencies would be invaluable; it gives visibility and confers status on the festival brand.
  6. Find and contract renowned artists to partner: The use of popular stand-up comedians, Nollywood stars, musicians, dancers, theatre artists, and so on to promote the festival.
  7. Generate good content audio-visual jingles: Jingles, on radio or television, are designed to advertise an event effectively.
  8. Harness sponsorship: Sponsorship from reputable organisations would enable the organisers to up the ante of any festival. The implication is having a feasible budget that prospective sponsors can easily identify with.
  9. Invigorating, well-designed tour vehicles: Such vehicles act as a publicity platform for the festival, wherever they drive to before or after the event.
  10. Juxtapose branded items: There is need to put together various items and costumes specifically branded with the festival logo, motto, theme, and other festival messages. Such branding would also include major or brand sponsors.
  11. Knowledgeable periodic reviews: This entails periodic analysis of the programme services to ascertain the level of effectiveness.
  12. Leverage: This will be in the form of producing daily news bulletins, spotlights or updates on the festival before, during and after the festival.
  13. Mainstream vibrant tour guides into the festival: Tour guides could stimulate the interest of participants in a festival. Thus, such guides should be properly trained to work with tourists.
  14. New construction or renovation work on vital infrastructure: Once facilities like road network, exhibition stands, press galleries, and pavilions for clients are put in good shape, it will boost the morale of participants. Accessibility into and within the festival community, portable water and uninterrupted electricity supply would go a long way in profiling the festival.
  15. Operate a secure environment: A secure environment is a sine qua non for any festival event. There is need to maintain a secure, peaceful and conducive environment. This entails engaging the services of various security operatives: Nigeria Police, Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC), State Security Services (SSS), Federal Fire Service, and Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC), for free flow of traffic in and around the venue).
  16. Provide basic medical facilities: This is to take care of emergencies in and around the venue.
  17. Qualitative contact checks: This is the follow-up on all special invitees: VIPs, states, troupes, artistes, and so on. Assign persons to follow up on such persons, so that you know the number of guests to expect, when they are arriving, and, probably, where they would be staying.
  18. Responsible and reliable hospitality: Be hospitable and receive participants. They should not be left stranded at entry points: airport, sea port, train station, and Motor Park. Follow up their travel plans to avoid lapses. Where they are to be accommodated, such arrangements should be tidied up long before then and such persons should be duly informed.
  19. Systematic crowd control: Ensure effective crowd control at the venue so that everybody can enjoy all the activities.
  20. Thrilling events and exhilarating in-festival publicity: Ensure that the events are well packaged and they are entertaining. Performances should be very crisp so that the spectators will not be bored. Furthermore, there should be effective promotion of the activities for the next day. This could be by producing special promos to attract attendance. Also, engage participants in press interviews/vox pops.
  21. Ubiquitous side attractions: This entails conceptualising side attractions to keep participants fully engaged and entertained.
  22. Vibrant, veritable courtesy: Extend courtesy to everyone. Endeavour to attend to every problem encountered by participants. This is where the services of well-trained festival aides would be invaluable.
  23. Wonderful press relations: Maintain effective press relations during and after the festival. Very friendly and favourable press reportage can profile your festival in no time.
  24. X-ray the event – perform a post mortem: Carry out extensive after-event evaluation to underscore areas that need improvement during the next outing. Most times, we go to sleep after an event only to reconvene a month or even two weeks before the next edition.
  25. You appreciate your guests: Send appreciation letters to dignitaries that graced the event. It will be better appreciated if, for instance, the Special Guest of Honour at the opening (or closing) ceremony gets such a letter at the end of that ceremony. This, of course, depends on the effective running of the Festival Secretariat.
  26. Zoom in and carry out updates: Ensure that partners are adequately informed of the programme outcomes and suggest the way forward.


There is no gainsaying that, Benue State, “the food basket of the nation,” is endowed with a rich and diverse cultural heritage, which finds expression in the colourful cloths, exotic masquerades, sophisticated music and dances of the people. The Kwagh-hir theatre of the Tiv people provides memorable entertainment in its dramatization of the people’s folklore and social commentary, through the use of masquerades, puppets and marionettes. As Rubin puts it, the stories of the performances are as simple and straightforward as possible: farmers farming, family’s passing on traditions, men and women working. The narratives of the performances are a means of handing down opinions, beliefs, customs and traditions to the younger generation, just as they offer visual metaphors for understanding and resolving social conflicts.

The point has been underscored that cultural festivals have the potentials of enhancing the economic development of host communities or states. Thus, to avoid getting just tangential results, in the search to reposition the culture and tourism sector, we have recommended the adoption of the A-Z Model, which has the prospects of re-inventing a festival as a brand. As a point of fact, celebrating the creativity in Kwagh-hir is a veritable step in branding it and systematically repositioning it to contribute meaningfully to the economic development of Benue State. A journey of a thousand miles starts with one step; so the saying goes. The Ministry of Arts, Culture and Tourism, Benue State has taken one step, the right step, in celebrating the creativity in Kwagh-hir theatre through this festival. Definitely, adopting the A-Z Model will be invaluable in taking more steps in the years ahead.

Works Cited

Abraham, Anthony Ada. “Masquerades and Festivals: Giving Way to Modernisation?” Leadership Newspaper. 9 Mar. 2014. Retrieved 31 Jan. 2016. http://leadership.ng/entertainment/353448/ masquerades-festivals-giving-way-modernisation

Akinsipe, Felix A. “Dance as a Vehicle of Communication in the Tiv Kwagh-Hir Theatre.” International Journal of Humanities and Cultural Studies, 1.4 (Mar. 2015). Retrieved 31 Jan. 2016. https://www.academia.edu/11343222/_Dance_ as_a_Vehicle_of_Communication_in_the_Tiv_Kwagh-Hir_Theater_ Felix_A. _Akinsipe

Ayakoroma, Barclays F. “Developing a Festival Brand: Towards a Blue Print for Nzeh Mada in Nasarawa State.” Being a Paper Presented at the Colloquium Event at Nzeh Mada Festival, Kini Country Guest Inn, Akwanga, Nasarawa State. 3 Apr. 2015.

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Doki, Ama G. “Indigenous Art Forms and Tourist Attraction: The Kwagh-Hir Theatre Paradigm.” The Abuja Communicator: A Journal of Culture & Media Arts, 3.1(June 2007): 122-129.

Duruaku, ABC Toni. Cultural Festival as a Tool for National Development in Nigeria. Abuja: National Institute for Cultural Orientation (NICO), 2011.

Enem, Edith. “The Kwagh-hir Theatre.” In Ogunbiyi, Yemi (Ed.), Drama and Theatre in Nigeria: A Critical Source Book. Lagos: Nigeria Magazine, 1981: 249-251.

Hagher, Iyorwuese. The Kwagh-hir Theatre: A Metaphor of Resistance. Ibadan: Caltop Publications (Nigeria) Ltd, 2003.

Kwagh Hir. A Documentary. Dirs. Frank Speed & Peggy Harper. Retrieved 31 Jan. 2016. https://www.therai.org.uk/film/film-sales/kwagh-hir

Lyndersay, Dani. “Walking the Talk with Interactive Walket-Puppets in Eastern Nigeria.” MUKABALA: Journal of Performing Arts and Culture, 1 (2008). 

Nyager, Elizabeth A. “Globalization and Folk-media.” Iorapuu, Tor (Ed.), Nigeria Theatre Journal: A Journal of the Society of Nigeria Theatre Artists, 10.2 (2010): 18-23.

————. “The Sculptural Elements in Kwagh-Hir Popular Theatre: The Interface between the Local and the Global.” 30 Jan. 2016. http://www.ajol.info/index.php/lwati/article/view/79501

Rubin, Don. “The Kwagh-Hir Theater: A Weapon for Social Action.” Retrieved 31 Jan. 2016. http://criticalstages.web.auth.gr/the-kwagh-hir-theater-a-weapon-for-social-action/

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vBeing a Paper Presented the Kwagh-hir Festival at Makurdi, Benue State on Thursday, 11th February, 2016

vBarclays Foubiri AYAKOROMA, PhD, is the Executive Secretary/CEO, National Institute for Cultural Orientation (NICO), Abuja, Nigeria and Visiting Associate Professor, Nasarawa State University, Keffi (NSUK). Website: www.nico.gov.ng. Email: dr.barclays@nico.gov.ng.