Two weeks of campus-wide events in November helped mark the 25th anniversary of the African Studies Institute at UGA. Like the continent itself, the events covered broad and diverse African-related topics in a variety of formats—including theater, poetry readings, conferences and food tastings.
The African Studies Institute got its start when faculty members pushed for increased and coordinated Africa-area studies in 1987. The institute, part of the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences, offers classes relating to Africa and supports study-abroad programs.
Akinloye Ojo, director of the institute, said the events were well attended by the UGA and Athens communities.
“It was very successful,” Ojo said. “In fact we have had more response than we originally anticipated.”
Students were an especially big presence at some of these events.
As a class assignment, students in African language courses led a cultural awareness event on Nov. 15 where they served traditional African dishes, such as fried plantains, curried (or jollof) rice and kachumbari (tomato and onion salad) and presented skits and videos in Swahili and Yoruba languages.
One of the highlights of the celebration was the international conference “Africa and Its Diaspora: Expressions of Indigenous and Local Knowledge.”
The two-day meeting drew academics and dignitaries from across Africa and the U.S. as well as from Europe and the Middle East. They discussed the richness of Africa’s culture—particularly about how to study and utilize knowledge passed down in African communities through oral tradition, music and art.
Tanure Ojaide, a professor in the Africana department at the University of North Carolina in Charlotte, delivered the conference’s keynote address. The Nigerian-born poet encouraged a greater appreciation of local African culture and the intellectual knowledge that can be gleaned from it. He listed the use of proverbs, riddles and folk tales as examples of African oral traditions that pass down knowledge from one generation to the next in local communities.
“This kind of indigenous knowledge is very important to individuals and community,” he said. “Indigenous knowledge of Africa and its diaspora must be exposed.”
While the conference focused on Africa largely from those native to the continent or part of its diaspora, there also were opportunities during the anniversary celebration to talk about Africa from an outsider’s perspective.
A panel of six former Peace Corps volunteers who served in Africa shared their experiences living and working in African communities. Each had unique stories to tell about their time in Africa, but all said that visiting and working there drastically changed their perspective about the continent.
Americans often reduce Africa to “lions, AIDS, poverty and warfare,” said Joe Lanning, an anthropology doctoral student who served his Peace Corps tenure in Malawi and still organizes trips there.
“It’s huge. The United States fits into Africa nearly three times,” Lanning said. “There are lots of different people, tons of different languages, cultures and religions.”