“We are the chosen people, headed for our land, that land which we shall with a sacred solemn vow, honor with a name, Africa!”
The final words of performance poet Kor Kor Okai’s piece resonated across the guests at the Organization for African Students (OAS) African Banquet for a long moment before the crowd broke into applause.
Okai, a senior at Temple University, composed and performed the poem, titled “Midmorn Salute in a Deserted Desert Storm,” especially for the occasion.
Okai was one of several artists that performed at the banquet, an annual event sponsored by the OAS.
For over a decade, the banquet has brought students, performers, and friends together once a year in a celebration of traditional African culture.
Showcasing the food, dancing, dress and music of the nations of both Africa and the Caribbean, the banquet offers the opportunity for African students to share their culture with each other as well as with the rest of the Temple community.
“The banquet unites 86 African spirits,” said OAS member Tskitski Archyn Brew-Butler, referring to the 54 African nations and 32 Caribbean countries the event brings together. “We are all brothers, here for everyone.
We see everyone as one and we share our love. It is an empowering way to unite ourselves.”
More than 125 people attended this year’s banquet, which was held Nov. 16 in the Student Activity Center. Many guests were returning for the second or third time.
“The banquet shows the unity of all the different people of the different countries,” said James Peoples, who was attending the banquet for the third year in a row.
“It breaks a lot of stereotypes when you get to see people of all nations come together to celebrate the culture.”
The dance portion of the show was significant, and performers dressed in traditional costumes demonstrated the styles of dance popular to each region.
In a humorous Dance Drama, the OAS Dance Group highlighted five regional dance styles as well as offered insight into the cultural values common among Africans.
“There was so much diversity, but also a sense of unity among people,” said Diana St. Arromand, president of the Hatian Student Organization (HSO).
“A lot of times when you say ‘African’ you put everyone together in one category, but things like seeing the difference in the clothing and dance of the different regions was really enlightening.”
A belly dancing pair also offered a seductive glimpse into the traditions of northern Africa.
“The dance troupe really represented the African culture,” said Nigerian-born sophomore Aghoghao Ajueyotsi.
Music was another important component of the event, as several performers highlighted a variety of traditional music from African jazz to rap.
Like many of the artists featured at the banquet, music of the group Black Star, was of political as well as cultural importance.
Known by the stage names “Boots” and “Donut,” the men of Black Star came to study at Temple from the Virgin Islands.
“We maintain a conception of one love and a message of consciousness and emancipation,” said Boots of the group’s music.
“We reach out to every nation and nationality with a message of truth and righteousness.”
Okai’s poetry also carried strong political undertones in its traditional style.
Born in Ghana, Okai began her performance with a traditional folk song in her native language of Ga, as typical of African poetry.
Kor Kor described her poem as a call to the people of Africa to return with the knowledge they have acquired abroad and “rebuild and rejuvenate” the continent.
“The mindset of many Africans is that you come to the U.S. and make it big, but it is our duty to take what we have learned here and go home to build the land,” she said.
Okai emphasizes that the people of Africa share a common heritage, and are called by their ancestors to bring the traditions and resources of each region together for the benefit of the continent.
“The African countries were not formed naturally, but habitually drawn… we need to think of ourselves as Africans first before as from separate countries,” Okai said.
“Just as we may be born in one room of the house, but learn to use all the rooms for our needs, the people of Africa need to use not only the resources of the nation they call home, but the gifts of the entire continent together for the good of all,” she said.
It is a message that the OAS tries to convene to both its members and the campus.
“We try to create an awareness about Africa and discuss how we can contribute to issues that are going on back home,” said OAS President Ufuoma Ikuku.
“We encourage people to take the education they have gained here and bring that knowledge back to Africa to change things.”
Ikuku, who was born in Nigeria, noted that the African Banquet serves to educate not only African students, but also the entire Temple community about the culture and the issues facing African and Caribbean nations.
“The OAS reaches out to all races. It doesn’t matter where you are from, it is about experiencing each other’s culture,” she said.
Okai also hopes that the banquet will help to break the stereotypes surrounding African culture and have a significant impact on both African students and the campus as a whole.
“Even though it is labeled as underdeveloped, Africa has a wealth of culture, history, and heritage to share with the people,” said Okai.
“To have students from so many different countries work hand in hand and plan the banquet is a sign that all of Africa can work together despite political and historical differences. We are one people, and this is an affirmation that we can pull together to get results.”
Kristine Povilaitis can be reached at Abergrrl187@lycos.com