According to Yoruba mythology, the account of the creation of the world began with God’s instruction to Obatala, his messenger, to embark on the duty. Obatala, it was told, armed with a calabash full of earth and a chicken engaged the services of Oduduwa, as a helper. Although Obatala derailed from the journey, as the story goes, it is to the credit of Oduduwa, for choosing to continue on Obatala’s assignment with the calabash and chicken that the earth exists today. So the story was told.

The Calabash is an intrinsic part of African culture and heritage. As a plant, it has long been used for food while its hard shell has also been used throughout history as not just a bottle and dipper but also an ancient musical instrument.

Historians have traced the age long traditional use of the calabash for medicine, wine and magic; albeit rituals. According to historians they were also tied to the backs of children and marine travelers to serve as life buoys. The Calabash is unarguably mankind’s oldest musical instrument resonator. It is the only known plant whose use by humans spanned prehistoric cultures across the entire globe. Although what has remained a puzzle for scientists was how – given its African origins – it came to be so widely used in the Americas.

Today, the gourd plant, from which the calabash is formed, while still being relevant to traditions across the African continent has also evolved to an art form, that it is a vital piece of Christmas decorations across the world. Such is the magic of the calabash.

It is this magical essence, the undying nature of the calabash, its ever-existing elixir that Calabar has now come to be likened to.

Once rustic and a forgotten southern plane, save for its distinctive therapeutic ambience and rich colonial heritage with a people renowned for their unique homeliness – especially of its women and their good cooking – the city has evolved through time as the most enterprising bastion of Nigeria’s creative industry and – of course – Africa’s Golden Calabash offering a pot pourri of exciting adventures in creativity, hospitality and jollification, which combined, have evidently elevated its status from a hitherto predominantly civil-service-dependent society to a thriving non-oil driven Nigerian economy. A development that has made it a prime destination of choice for fun seekers, adventurers and holiday-goers across Africa.

But Calabar, as now widely known, was not always like this. It took the determined resolve and visionary leadership of Donald Duke, the Father of Modern Cross River, to begin the tortious journey of her regeneration. However, to sustain and advance the gains recorded by the Dukean era, it has taken, beyond productive politics, good governance by successive administrations to keep Calabar on the map as a global destination brand. It is important to state that Cross River, of which Calabar is capital, enjoys the cooperation of all successive leaders of the State in advancing its development since its regeneration in 1999. Something not a few other Nigerian States have been denied of due to bitter rivalry, divisions arising from the struggle to control the politics of the States, reluctance of past leaders to retire to the background, and unending partisan affrays. As such, the respective States have had their development derailed if not entirely hampered.

Currently the administration of Prof. Ben Ayade is utilizing the existing infrastructure laid down by his predecessors to launch Calabar beyond the fringes of the African continent as a destination of choice for digital broadcasting and film making. Already, 3 Calabar-made films would be premiering on the global stage in Hollywood this year. The city is already home to Mo Abudu’s Ebony Live Television, which delivers world class entertainment crafted by excellence to viewers around the world via digital broadcasting.

Also in the works are several top notch entertainment features that are bound to keep the calm and inviting city of Calabar on the map for a very long time as the go-to destination of choice for digital broadcasting and film making. The unique edge of Cross River as an entertainment hub for Africa is bound to pay off in the long run as the State has masterly positioned itself to take its fair share of the global creative industries, which going by a 2015 study conducted by Ernst & Young and jointly presented by UNESCO and the International Confederation of Authors and Composers Societies (CISAC), is 3% of the World GDP valued at $2,250 billion in revenues; a sum bigger than the entire economy of India.

The study analysed 11 CCI sectors in Europe, North America, Latin America, Africa, the Middle East and the South Pacific region, focusing on everything from architecture and advertising to television. The highest earners were television ($477billion), newspapers and magazines ($354 billion) and visual arts ($391 billion).

The benefits of the creative industries to Cross River State cannot be overemphasized. It’s an established fact that the creative industries are open to people of all ages and backgrounds, and provide a significant contribution to youth employment and careers.

In Europe for instance, cultural sectors employ people between the ages of 15 and 29 more than any other sector; they also have more women participating in them than traditional industries. Statistics compiled by the government of the United Kingdom show that women accounted for more than 50% of the people employed in the music industry in 2014, compared with 47% in the overall active population.

According to a study featured at the World Economic Forum, small businesses and individuals are key in the creative industries, and give rise to innovative and agile employers and workers. In the United states, artists are 3.5 times more likely to be self-employed than the rest of the US working population.

Given the established global models and Calabar’s impressive adoption and sectoral lead in Nigeria, it is only a matter of time, and it’s close by already, before the trickling rain of dollars flood her pristine streets and expand the frontiers of her enthralling vision.

Nothing is stopping the growth of Beautiful Calabar; Africa’s golden calabash. So far, she’s been impressive and attractive beyond words. One wonders what else she has hidden within her golden essence.

Oraye St. Franklyn writes from Port Harcourt

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