Monday, May 8, 2017

Memories of the 2017 World Festival, Rochester

On April 29, as planned, the World Festival took place in Rochester, Minnesota. This was the culmination of weeks of planning by the Rochester International Association (RIA). I had featured the festival announcement on this blog.

My daughter Zawadi and I attended it, representing Tanzania and Africonexion: Cultural Consultants. We arrived at the festival venue at 9:45am, with enough time to set up our table and hang the Tanzanian flag on the wall. On the table we displayed my publications, including books such as Africans and Americans: Embracing Cultural Differences and Matengo Folktales.

Around 10:00am, festival visitors started arriving. We talked with those who came to our table about my work as a writer and cultural consultant. Several people recognized me from last year's festival, and I was humbled that they did.

After about thirty minutes, the flag ceremony started. This is part of the festival. It involves a procession of people from various countries carrying their national flags which they RIA owns. The RIA board had for the first time, acquired the Tanzanian flag, which I proudly carried in the procession.

For the rest of the day, we continued talking with people who visited our table and we handed out free xerox copies of my little article, "Chickens in the Bus," as well as information about Africonexion: Cultural Consultants.  We also took turns to walk around the exhibition areas, looking at various  displays and taking photos.

I passed by the table seen in the photo on the left. It was the Nigerian table and they cheerfully posed for this photo. Among the our most memorable experiences were conversations my daughter and I had with a professor of Winona State University. As soon as she saw us, she remarked that she had bought my book last year. She said that she would like to bring her students to the festival in the future with an assignment: to interview people from four different countries in order to learn about global cultural diversity. I thought that was an brilliant idea.

Another memorable experince for us was talking with a lady who, after looking at my book, Africans and Americans: Embracing Cultural Differences. began telling of about her experiences in Japan. As an American, she said, she had made cultural blunders in communicating with the Japanese. We enjoyed the conversation, since her experiences resembled mine in the USA. It was rewarding to encounter someone who shared her personal stories so freely and with an arresting sense of humour.

Moving around, I visited a table where I saw a woman wearing hijab. When I approached the table, I realized I had seen this woman last year. On her table I saw Islamic books such as Muhammad Asad's The Message of the Qur'an, John L. Esposito's Who Speaks for Islam, and Wisdom for Life & The Afterlife: A Selection of Prophet Mohammad's Sayings, all of which I have in my collection.

I introduced myself, saying that I teach at St. Olaf College and one of my courses is "Muslim Women Writers," which I created to help counter prevailing ignorance about and misrepresentations of Islam and Muslims, especially Muslim women.

She, on her part, told me that she hosts the Faith Talk Show, and we agreed that it would be a good idea for me to appear on the show at some point in the future. Returning from the festival, I checked online and saw much information about this lady and her show, such this article. I am thinking it might be a good idea to invite her to speak in my Muslim Women Writer's class.

Throughout the festival there were performances by dance and musical groups from various countries. It was humbling to watch these performers as they generously shared their talents and traditions with all of us.

In addition to cultural items for sale, ranging from clothes and artifacts, to jewelry, and works of art, there were also foods from several countries.

The more I attend these festivals, the more I appreciate their value. As I watch the people attending the festival, volunteers, and vendors, and observe their countless conversations, I know that these festivals are a great way of connecting people. I am mindful of the fact that the people who attend the festival communicate with others around the world through email, social media, and so on, spreading the story of the festival around the world. I am doing that right now, with this blog post.

This was another very successful World Festival, a testament to enduring commitment of the RIA to bring people together.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Awaiting the 2017 World Festival, Rochester

I am awaiting the 2017 World Festival to be held on April 29 in Rochester, Minnesota. This is an annual event, organized by the Rochester International Association (RIA). I have attended this event before, including last year, as I reported on this blog.

As a result of such engagements, my connections to Rochester have continued to grow, particularly after I joined the board of the RIA a few months ago. It was through the RIA board that I recently gave a UMR Connects lecture on "Folklore as Expression of Ethics."

As in the past, a number of countries from various parts of the world will be represented in this year's World Festival. The World Festival is a great opportunity for people to meet, learn about various countries, and enjoy cultural displays and performances. As usual, I will be participating as an educator, author, and cultural consultant. 

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

My UMR Presentation on Ethics in Folklore

I have just returned from Rochester, Minnesota, where I gave a lecture on "Folklore as Expression of Ethics: European and African Examples." The lecture, which I mentioned on this blog,  was part of the University of Minnesota Rochester (UMR) Connects program.

I learned about the UMR Connects during a meeting of the board of Rochester International Association (RIA) of which I am a member. I offered to propose a topic to the UMR Connects for a presentation, in line with the request by the UMR Connect that the focus for April be ethics. As a folklorist, I chose to focus on "Folklore as Expression of Ethics: European and African Examples."

I was pleased to share with the audience how African and European folklore mediates ethical issues and concerns. I presented several African proverbs and two folktales, and discussed European folktales such as "Snow White" and "The Emperor's New Clothes." I also cited the Poetic Edda and The Kalevala. In regard to their concern with ethics, the similarities between the African and European folklore traditions were obvious.

After my talk, audience members asked questions. One of these was whether there were contradictory messages in proverbs. I said that was, indeed, the case, and I offered examples from the Swahili tradition. I explained that proverbs embody a deep understanding of social and other phenomena and are therefore used by the elders, because these are sophisticated enough to know which proverb applies to which situation.

I had a great time with the people of Rochester. I look forward to being there again on April 29, when I will be participating in the World Festival organized by the RIA. I will be participating as an author, talking about my books, and as a cultural consultant. I welcome everyone.

Friday, March 31, 2017

A Discussion on Kitereza at the University of Minnesota

Today, at the University of Minnesota, Dr. Charlotte (Shoonie) Hartwig and I discussed Aniceti Kitereza, a distinguished writer who is, however, not well known. Shoonie has been writing a book, and the presentation today centered on this project.

Kitereza was born in 1896 on Ukerewe Island in the Tanzanian part of Lake Victoria. As he grew up he became passionate about recording the traditions and culture of his people. As part of this process, he wrote a great novel in Kerebe, his mother tongue, completing it in early 1945. It is a detailed account of the traditional Kerebe way of life which Kitereza chose to present in fictional form in order to make it interesting to read.

After a protracted and fruitless search for a publisher, and following the advice of his American friends, Kitereza translated his novel into Swahili. Still, he waited many years before the novel was published in 1980 as Bwana Myombekere na Bibi Bugonoka na Ntulanalwo na Buliwhali.

Shoonie is uniquely qualified to talk about Kitereza since she and her husband, the late Dr. Gerald Hartwig, knew him well, having first met him in 1968 in Ukerewe. They had extensive correspondence with him to the end of his life. Kitereza was a prolific letter writer. In today's presentation, Shoonie shared an overview of Kitereza's life and work, illustrated with slides. She stated that Kitereza worked tirelessly to preserve the traditions of his people, guided by a question that he himself posed: "What must we teach our children?"

I gave a brief overview of Kitereza's work from my perspective as a literary scholar and folklorist. I highlighted several key issues that feature in discussions of African literature, especially writing in African languages and translation. I noted how Bwana Myombekere might affect the way we conceptualize the evolution of the African novel and how Bwana Myombekere might be seen in relation to the work of writers like Daniel O. Fagunwa and Amos Tutuola of Nigeria, Gakaara wa Wanjau of Kenya, and Shaaban Robert of Tanzania. This would be a study in comparative literature.

I have read Kitereza's Swahili translation of his novel. His Swahili, though different from standard Swahili, has the flavour of oral storytelling in a Bantu language such as my own Matengo. I liked it for this reason. Kitereza's novel has been translated into French and German, but according to Professor Gabriel Ruhumbika, a native Kerebe speaker and well-known translator, those translations have unnecessary deficiencies.

Professor Ruhumbika has translated Kitereza's original Kerebe novel into English and published it as Mr. Myombekere and His Wife Bugonoka, Their Son Ntulanalwo and Daughter Buliwhali. Having read it, I find it as engaging as Kitereza's Swahili translation. It deserves to be widely read. I will say the same thing about Shoonie's forthcoming book, a personal account laden with information hitherto not available to the world.

Friday, March 24, 2017

NdCAD Open House

This evening, I attended an open house event at the premises of the Network for the Development of Children of African Descent in St. Paul. Founded in 1997, this network seeks to promote positive education for children and youths of African descent. Its mission embraces and engages parents and other community members in literacy programs, tutoring, and cultural enrichment. It runs a library service for children and adults.

Gevonee Ford welcomed us to the open house with a brief overview of the history and mission of the NdCAD. He eloquently explained, for example, that black children grow up in a world saturated with narratives of negativity and brokenness in the black world: from relationships to values and dreams. Without discounting the existence of problems, the NdCAD promotes the narrative that not everything is broken, and that there are positive things that need to be developed in order to build a better future.

Gevonee announced that this year marks the 20th anniversary of the NdCAD, and he unveiled the commemorative banner. The first photo above features the banner before it was unveiled.

I had visited the NdCAD for the first time on February 18. Seeing all those students, parents, volunteers, meeting rooms, books and other educational resources, not to mention photos of famous black personalities lining the walls, was an eye-opening experience. I was inspired to witness the communal spirit and the collective desire to bring about real education to the children and the community at large, rooted in an Afrocentric perspective, not in any wishy-washy or romantic sense, but a real understanding and appreciation of the central role that Africa and people of African descent have historically played in the world.

That the NdCAD has been operating for twenty years and looks confidently to the future is a remarkable story of unwavering determination and hope. It is a story that deserves to be widely known, for there is no doubt that it will inspire others as it has inspired me.