Luna Besaiso – Staff Writer
The annual Africa Night, April 10 held in Lund Center Arena this year due to COVID-19 restrictions, highlighted a night full of region-wide celebration of African culture. The Pan-Afrikan Student Organization (PASO), who sponsors this event, hopes to provide the community with further knowledge about the African continent and its culture.
Africa Night featured a variety of activities including skits, dance performances, trivia questions, etc. Sophomore Arsene Matabaro, an international student who was also the co-chair of the event, describes the significance of holding these activities.
“Africa Night is an event that happens once a year. There are multiple intercultural events that take place on campus, but this night is the main occasion where all African students come together to share their distinctive cultures. Many mistakenly believe that Africa is one country, but through the activities we display, we challenge the stereotypes and share the heritage of a rich continent composed of over fifty countries,” Matabaro said.
The fashion show is one of the highlights of the night. Participants, whether involved in PASO or not, wore traditional clothing with different patterns, and each design is native to a specific area in Africa. Senior Nana Abena Boateng wore a blue dress patterned with purple, orange, and green shapes.
“It is my last year at Gustavus and my last Africa Night, the night where I can freely be myself and represent my culture. In my home country, there are over 1,000 different patterns and we take pride in making them. Wearing this dress tonight is so valuable to me because my mom collected the Ghanian textiles for it and paired it up for me so I can pridefully honor my country one last time in this community,” Boateng said.
Gospel rap music was also incorporated in the event. Kareem Watts, the assistant Director of Center for Inclusive Excellence (CIE), performed the song “KumbaYah,” an authentic rap track that adopts the Black history of the Bible and shoutouts African countries.
“From L.A., my DNA Nigeria // Shout out to you in Libya // Fist up Ethiopia… America the beautiful // took us from the motherland // never got 1 cent fam,” Watts rapped.
Watts illustrates his piece further.
“Aside from working with CIE, I am also passionate about music. I have been rapping since I was 10 but I got inspired by gospel rap a little over 20 years ago. Since learning about the original Twelve Tribes of Israel, I try to make my art more Hebrew-centeric as I look at the history from a non-Western mindset. “KumbaYah” as a word means “Come By Here”, the song itself invites the audience to learn about the Hebrew African history and presence in the Bible,” Watts said.
The event continued with yet another spectacular performance. DelStarr, a speed painter, produced a portrait of Black Panther as a tribute to Chadwick Boseman. The cinematic African-American icon amplified black culture through his work and inspired millions. He was an activist and a superhero on and off the screen. Boseman was privately battling colorectal cancer, until one day his death struck the world. Although he is not with us today, he remains a respected figure that shined light on the African heritage and exposed it to the rest of the world in an influential manner.
Between performances, the hosts interacted with the audience through trivia questions in relation to Black Diaspora.
Sophomore Zach Gbor, the co-host of Africa Night, explains why the Diaspora themed trivia is a vital addition to the program.
“We specifically collected trivia questions that focus on the Black Diaspora. The history of it is usually forgotten or commonly misconceived, so our focus was on educating the people about the reality of our Diaspora. Understanding the history will allow the community to examine and explore the unique experiences that African-descendents have been exposed to in the past and are still experiencing today,” Ghor said.
As the theme of Africa Night implies–Ubuntu: Advancing with courage and resilience–, saying that this past year was hefty would be an understatement. In 2020, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and other victims of police brutality have been murdered, fueling Black Lives Matter protests. Ever since, the movement gained much more public support and still continues to advocate for the Black community.
“It was such a tough year. Besides the pandemic, we witnessed countless amounts of racial injustices, especially towards black people. We try to honor the victims and encourage the black community to keep on going, to advance, with an emphasis on resilience. “Ubuntu” means “I am Because We Are”, and the unity of our community is how we stride towards justice,” Gbor said.
Undeniably, the spread of COVID-19 has reshaped the world’s day-to-day dynamics. As a result, the way social events are held on campus are restricted in order to ensure everyone’s safety.
“It was challenging to hold a successful Africa Night under Covid. We were limited to hosting about 150 students, which meant that friends and family could not be a part of this night. For that reason, we also couldn’t invite traditional dance groups, so we relied on select PASO
members to fulfil that part. We were also limited to ordering food from one restaurant rather than multiple, and it had to be packaged for COVID safety,” Gbor said.
“PASO did a good job in placing attendees six feet apart. Social distancing is a major part of being COVID-safe, the only drawback about it is that we could not host 400-500 people as usual. It surely would be even better if we were able to educate more community members about our culture, history, and struggles,” Junior Tonnie Rubia, a member of PASO, said.
Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, another Africa Night has been celebrated at Gustavus.