OAS hosts annual celebration
Lively music pulsed through the Amphitheatre, prompting the cheers of an enthusiastic audience. From energetic tribal dances to serious poetry readings, Africa Day participants captivated onlookers at the Organization of African Students’ annual celebration.
OAS invited the University community to experience and learn about Africa’s diverse culture April 16. While OAS has hosted Africa Day at the Newcomb Ballroom in the past, this year the show was outdoors.
“In late March [to] April, there’s a lot of cultural shows put on [by] the multicultural organizations around Grounds, and I think that’s very important,” OAS Vice President Queenie Owusu, a fourth-year College student, said. “I think when organizations such as ourselves put on these shows … while it’s a lot of fun, we’re also educating people.”
While OAS has discussed charging admission for the show in the past, the organization decided to extend free admission this year.
“We definitely want to continue making it free because we don’t want to exclude anyone from the opportunity to experience so much culture,” Owusu said.
The “African Renaissance” themed festivities included dancing, a fashion show, a flag scene representing a variety of African countries and readings of African poetry.
In addition to readings from multiple African poets — including Abigail Sikwenda and Ahmed Fouad Negm — fourth-year College student Mary Namugosa, third-year College student Seher Raza and first-year College student Bilkis Habib performed a dramatic reading of “Pray For Africa … We Too Need A Prayer.”
Raza and third-year College students Yolande Pokam and Jonea Ahouissoussi wrote the piece to address the lack of Western media attention to terrorist attacks in Africa.
Owusu explained that OAS sought to reveal the evolution of Africa over time and to give credit to Africa where credit is due.
“It’s not this static nation that’s always burdened with tragedy,” Owusu said. “There’s a lot of life and culture to it that we’re trying to bring to the forefront, and then also how the things that we see happening on the continent … have seeped into the global market internationally.”
Sheila Otwe, OAS events coordinator and fourth-year College student, addressed the twofold purpose of the celebration — to provide students with fun cultural activities and to examine Africa’s transformative history.
“We want to give a multifaceted representation of the continent,” Otwe said. “We feel that many times the media, the way that it portrays the continent is … too narrow, one dimensional … so even with this year’s show, yes [we had] a lot of fun stuff … but we also [focused on] events that have happened on the continent in the last year, the last five years.”
More generally, Otwe said Africa Day showed Africa’s transformation since the 1950’s and the wave of decolonization and independence. For example, the OAS fashion show featured evolving African textiles, such as ankara. The clothing pieces included button-down shirts with African print on the pockets and along the buttons.
“Ankara has pretty much always been around, but there’s now new designs to it and new ways of manipulating it,” Otwe said. “It’s showing different manipulations of the textile that wasn’t necessarily used 50-60 years ago. So It’s those little things that we’re trying to show.”
Africa Day also featured several cultural dance performances by University students. First-year Engineering student Ahmed Osman performed in a tribal dance with a group of Sudanese students.
“It [was] actually a dance from Eastern Sudan [and] all of us I think are from the North, so it’s not exactly our culture, but it’s sort of similar,” Osman said. “There are so many different tribes all throughout Sudan, but there’s definitely some similarities.”
Osman said he thought students should come out to Africa Day for the chance to get to know different cultures.
“We all know U.Va. has so many different students from so many different backgrounds, and it’s really cool to see different cultures,” Osman said.
Owusu said OAS feels a responsibility to impact how the University community perceives the continent, particularly through Africa Day.
“When we have the opportunity to showcase or to highlight different regions of Africa, different countries, different cities, why not take advantage of that?” Owusu said.