Willamette events educate about diversity of African cultures

Discussion of politics in Sudan, a giant handmade puzzle, an African music sale, an evening of spoken word — the Willamette University Africa Club has been working since early December to bring these and many more exciting events to campus for Africa Week, a celebration of art, film, literature and dance.

The week consists of a variety of events, including traditional lectures and documentaries, but also more interactive opportunities, such as an open mic night and an African market.

According to Africa Club co-president Carley Kwiatkowski ’13, the purpose of Africa Week is to provide a counter image to the media’s often-negative portrayals of Africa and to emphasize the diversity amongst Africa’s countries that may often go unrecognized. This year’s theme is “Voices and Visuals: Diversity in Africa,” with a focus on expressive culture coming out of many areas of the continent.

“The main thing I would hope students take away is that Africa is huge — it is a continent of 54, soon to be 55, countries, and the experiences are so diverse,” Kwiatkowski says. “Not only because of the different countries, but the geographic locations, the amount of international support, the presence of war — all of these things create extremely different experiences.

“Come to these events assuming what you know about Africa may be challenged. The dominant narrative isn’t always accurate.”

The club has worked extensively to keep this idea ostensible throughout all of the week’s events. Timbuktunes, for example, a Portland-based African music vendor who visited campus earlier this week, organizes his music by country and ethnic group, a method that shows the vast diversity even within a single country.

On Tuesday night, Professors Bianca Murillo and Andries Fourie showcased expressive cultural aspects from two countries in an event called “Coffee & Conversation: Creative Explorations of West Africa.”

Murillo, who teaches history, discussed the Ghanaian Concert Party Theater and its impact on the modern Ghanaian cultural development in the 20th century. Fourie, a native South African who teaches art, addressed the distinctive, traditional Dogan ethnic group of Mali, and his personal experience with their rituals and artwork.

The vast diversity of the two groups that are so proximally related again reflected the goals of Africa Week, shedding light on the importance of evaluating unique cultural experiences across the continent.

The festival culminates this Saturday, Feb. 19, with an African Market that, according to Kwiatkowski, is not just a retail opportunity, but an entire cultural encounter. Alongside the souvenir and cuisine vendors will be information booths from organizations involved abroad, a “kids’ corner” featuring a giant 16-piece puzzle of the continent and an animated film, and opportunities for discussion and appreciation. The market will be held in Cat Cavern from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Other programs remaining this the week include the ongoing involvement of Goudy Commons, where dishes from selected African countries are being served daily; a faculty colloquium on Friday featuring Professors Joyce Millen and Amadou Fofana; a PeopleDance performance Friday evening; and a display in the Mark O. Hatfield Library featuring African films and books.

See the entire schedule: