Wika Carnival in Windhoek
A proud German tradition
Carnival comes in many shapes and sizes and is celebrated all over the world. Namibia is however, one of the last places where you would expect carnival festivities to be celebrated. But this arid country in south western Africa is host to no fewer than six carnival societies, of which the Karnevalgesellschaft Windhoek 1952 (Windhoek Carnival Society of 1952), commonly known as Wika, is the oldest. Founded in 1952, Wika is a buzzing organisation consisting of about 30 committee members who organise the annual event. The founders would never have foreseen that their "baby" would develop into such a formidable adult. Wika was celebrated for the first time in 1953. A small group of immigrants from Germany organised an event that turned out to be one of the highlights on the local cultural calendar. And it is here to stay, for Namibia's vastly multi-cultural society forms the perfect setting for a type of celebration that embraces all the country's language groups.
Although Wika is based on the carnival celebrated in Germany's Rhine Valley, Namibia's celebrations have developed into a sub-culture found nowhere else in the world. Like their German counterparts, Namibian carnival organisers create stage programs consisting of choreographed art and speeches of political satire. The non-German speaking community is catered for with English evenings, which are also part of the programme. To educate the people in the tradition of carnival, Wika organsises events not only for adults, but also for the youth and children. Especially in the ranks of the latter one detects that one of the main aims - the integration of al people regardless of race, colour and creed - is bearing its first fruit. Since Namibia gained Independence in 1990, the organisers of the event have ceaselessly strived towards transforming the annual celebrations into a multi-cultural affair. Wika upholds active links with other carnival societies in South Africa, Germany, Canada and the United States. This is one the reasons why carnival lovers in Namibia can not only enjoy the talent of local artists, but also enjoy foreign stage performers' regular visits. Musical groups such as the "Original Eschweiler Fantfaren-Trompeter" from the Eifel region in western Germany and the trio "De Rauber" from Cologne regularly feature on stage. South African cabaret star Elsabe Zietsman was also amongst the many stars attracting Windhoek's carnival community. Over the years, Wika has developed into a huge machinery in terms of organisation The festivities stretch over a period of two weeks, starting off with the traditional Biwak in the city park. During this event the reigning royal couple performs one of its last official duties by addressing a city council representative and hundreds of guests who enjoy the bright sunshine, live music, beer and good food. Biwak is followed by the Royal Ball. This event is undoubtedly the highlight of each year's celebrations, for it marks the crowing ceremony of Wika's new royal couple, whose identity is kept strictly confidential until that evening. The outgoing couple, the chair and the presidents of the carnival society elect the prince and the princess to be throne. The Royal Ball also marks the exit of the royal couple that ruled the city's carnival fools for the past year. During the course of the evening, a representative of the city council hands over a huge key to the new royal couple. This is to symbolise that for the duration of carnival proceedings, the fate of the city and thereby the entire community lies in the hands of the new carnival rulers and their followers - all those who visit the various events.
From the moment of their accession to the throne, the prince and princess fro the centre of the carnival celebrations. They lead the fun loving fraternity through the carnival season, take the stage night after night in true royal style and watch the celebrations from the elevation of their throne. One the Saturday after their accession to the throne, the new royal couple meet the broader city community during the traditional float procession. Leading a host of carnival floats and being clearly visible on their beautifully decorated float, the new carnival rulers slowly move through Windhoek's Independence Avenue. The float procession not only introduces the prince and the princess to the city folk, it also makes people aware that the annual carnival season has officially kicked off and is ready to move full steam ahead.
The prince and princess are guarded at all times by the Prinzengarde (Royal Guard). This group of about 20 female dancers forms the chorographical centre piece of all stage performances. In its bright red-and-white outfit, Wika's Royal Guard is considered to be one of the most talented dance groups in southern Africa. Another important group is the Elferrat (Council of Eleven). Consisting of 11 committee members, the council is the symbolic board of advisors to the reigning royal couple. The youth carnival, the children's carnival, ladies and men's evening, two international evenings (hosted in English), buttenabend (hosted in German) and a fancy-dress ball dominate the remainder of the carnival's activities. The annual celebrations are rounded off by means of the kehraus and ox braai, two events that mark the end of the celebrations.
Windhoek has a very lively carnival community. Night after night, the capital's Narrhalla (the hall where all the events takes place) is filled to the brim. Being fun-loving and frolicsome, the crowd is crucial Wika's success. Year after year, Windhoek's carnival hosts official delegations from carnival societies from other parts of the world. They complete the colourful picture of multi-cultural exchange that exists between Namibia's capital and the rest of the world. Of equal importance are the excellent relationships that exists between the various carnival societies in Namibia. Visiting each other during their respective seasons forms an important element of partnership amongst the different carnival societies.
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