Autumn brings a feast of culturally fascinating and colorful festivals around the world. Here are five events that provide a break from the ordinary.
What: Fetu Afahye
Where: Cape Coast, Ghana
When: September 1 to 6
Considered one of the most colorful and spiritually significant festivals by the people of Oguaa or Cape Coast traditional area, Fetu Afahye is named after the 17th Century Fetu kingdom which is located just inland from Cape Coast. The festival's main purpose is to usher in the harvest of both the sea and the land. It is a unique opportunity for visitors to gain an insight into ancient tribal traditions and to witness ornate processions (Durbars) of chiefs, several days of ritualistic dancing and drumming, a ceremonial opening of the lagoon to the sea to bring in a bountiful catch (the Bakatue), a boat regatta, the exorcizing of evil from the lagoon by fetish priests, sacrifices to the gods (yes they do actually slaughter a live animal), bonfires, gun salutes, concerts, races, a football tournament, a display of traditional priests, and a kaleidoscope of costumes. The festival period represents a spiritual renewal for the community and economic prosperity. This year's theme is to celebrate heritage and promote economic growth in the metropolis.
What: Coupe Icare
Where: St Hilaire du Touvet, France
When: September 18 to 21
France's love affair with flight is on display each year at Icarus Cup Free-Flying Festival in St Hilaire du Touvet in the Rhône-Alpes region of France. Up to 10,000 flight enthusiasts, pilots, hang gliders, and hot air balloonists descend (or should I say ascend) upon this festival to revel in all things non-mechanical aviation. There's a flight-themed film festival, the Icare Expo air sports trade fair, aerial demonstrations and aerobatics, a costumed flight competition, and hot air balloon processions. The demos and contests are complemented by street shows, workshops for crafting hot air balloons, and musical performances. All activities are free and there are no entry or parking fees. For more information visit www.coupe-icare.org.
What: Great Gorilla Run
When: September 27
The thought of photographing or videoing some of London's key monuments and landmarks while hundreds of people dressed in gorilla suits run by seems almost too good to pass up. While you may not necessarily want to enter the event, it makes for an amazing spectator opportunity and you can help by actually donating to the cause and sponsoring a runner who will be raising money to save the endangered gorillas of West and Central Africa. The four-mile race raises hundreds of thousands of dollars that go to African communities to assist with their conservation programs. The event has been so popular that the idea is spreading to other cities like San Francisco, Amsterdam, and New York, and even China is planning its own gorilla run. For participants, it is a chance to go ape for the day, help save one of the world's critically endangered species, and get to keep a gorilla suit to wear anytime. There are still over 100 runner spots for this year's race available so see the website for details at www.greatgorillas.org.
What: Thimpu Festival
Where: Thimpu, Bhutan
When: October 9 to 11
The Thimphu Tsechu falls annually during the Bhutanese autumn and is one of the grandest festivals of the year. Held in the kingdom's capital, the main festivities take place in the central courtyard at the historic Tashichho Dzong (fortress), a complex of buildings that house government offices, the king's throne room, and the living quarters of the monk body and its Chief Abbot. For the four full days, masked dancers (monks and laymen) perform ritual dances with Bhutan's chief abbot presiding over the ceremonies which is attended by senior royal officials, locals and tourists.
The festival has been celebrated since the mid 17th century and is considered the social highlight of the year. While the purpose of the festival is spiritual with lots of praying ad feasting, the dances are entertaining and more like plays, telling stories about good triumphing over evil, or depicting significant historical events, especially surrounding the life of Bhutan's patron saint.
What: The Lop Buri Monkey Festival
Where: Lop Buri, Thailand
When: November 30, 2008
Lop Buri in central Thailand, 90 miles north of Bangkok is home to magnificent Khmer ruins and a large population of macaque monkeys. To increase tourism to the area, an enterprising local businessman devised a festival that would highlight the town two-best known attractions. What has now ensued is an annual festival that attracts upwards of 10,000 visitors. A vegetarian banquet designed solely for the monkeys is held within the ancient Three Pagoda Compound ruins on the last Sunday on November. Chefs from some of Bangkok's leading hotels prepare the primate feast at the San Pra Kan shrine and large temple-shaped displays are brought in covered with layers of fancy fruits and vegetables colorfully arranged.
Long red tablecloths are laid out with bountiful platters of sumptuous rice, noodles, fruits and other dishes including cans of soda, supposedly a macaque favorite. Some food is encased in giant ice sculptures so the monkeys lick their way to the goodies. Children dress up in gold monkey costumes and even sponsors get in on the act, supplying their food contributions with point of sale advertising to boot. There is a procession, a series of rituals, live music and a lot of frivolity. Locals believe that providing food for the monkeys, Lop Buri's most famous residents, brings good fortune and prosperity.