Sunday, August 7, 2011

Lubango's 'Feast on the Hill'

Each August 15, the people of the city of Lubango stage the annual Festival Nossa Senhora do Monte (translated "Lady of the Hill").  Tied historically to Catholic religious rituals, the highlight of this annual festival is a procession where up to 10,000 pilgrims share a Catholic mass at the symbolic church of the Nossa Senhora do Monte.

The festival and church building has deep historic roots connected to the Funcal region of the island of Madeira in Portugal.  History states that in 1470 a small chapel was build on a ridge in the mountainside rising behind Funcal.  Initially called the Chapel of Our Lady of the Incarnation, it was reassigned as Our Lady of the Mount some 90 years later.

Legend states that the later name of the chapel was adopted after a great spiritual experience.  Apparently, the daughter of a local shepherd had gone to drink from a spring that emerged from the hillside near the chapel and while there an apparition of the Virgin Mary appeared on the rock face. When a new church in Funchal was restored in the early 1800's after a tragic earthquake, the church was officially proclaimed the church of Nossa Senhora do Monte, the Patron Saint of Madeira.

Because of testimonies of answered prayers from the Madeira parishioners, Nossa Senhora Do Monte was and is looked up to even today with the most affectionate veneration by all Roman Catholic mariners and farmers.  She is considered a protectress in all cases of peril and many miraculous interpositions of hers, under circumstances of appalling danger are recounted seriously and devoutly believed.

It was upon these beliefs in 1901 that a group of settlers from Madeira Portugal sought the sponsorship of the erection of Our Lady of Mount west of the village of Sa da Bandeira, named Lubango today.  Having the church situated on a hillside overlooking Lubango, the settlers wanted to perfectly imitate the traditions of their homeland, being able to look up to the church from their homes and fields and contemplate their crops to bless.

While the catholic parishioners faithfully have continued the traditional mass annually on August 15 to this day, several local, Ovimbundu cultural practices were syncretized into the festival.  In earlier times, the festival included bonfires and drumming ceremonies marking the ritual of 'Ekwenje' when boys were circumcised and 'Efiko', the ritual of puberty when girls get ready for marriage.   As these local, cultural celebrations naturally faded away, the festival's celebrations have become modernized to include beauty pageants and car races.

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