Expressing African Culture

African culture, dance, music and clothing brought nearly 600PSU students and Portland community members together in the SMSUBallroom Friday night for the annual African Cultural Night.

Suad Jama, the program coordinator for the Association ofAfrican Students (AAS) cited the event as “the largest gathering ofAfrican people in Portland.”

The evening consisted of lectures on and artistic expressions ofAfrican culture and a presentation by the African WomenCoalition.

The Kukatonon Children’s Dance Troupe gave an energeticpresentation of social dances from the Senegalese region ofAfrica.

“In Africa, we say it takes a village to raise a child. We don’tjust talk about it, we don’t just write about it, we actually doit,” one dancer addressed onlookers before exiting the stage.

Rolia Mangongai-Jones, who founded the troupe in 1983, said thatthe group of children, ages four through 12, provides a connectionto “something that is theirs … it brings pride to theircommunity.”

Mangongai-Jones added that some of the dancers continue atdifferent colleges throughout the country. Past troupe members havechildren continuing their legacy in the Kukatonon Dance Troupe.

The troupe originated at Woodlawn Elementary School and over theyears has grown to the point where a waiting list exists now forchildren who want to join.

“The mission is to give kids a sense of their original culture… kids need to make the connection to their traditional rootsinstead of Western culture,” said Caton Lyles, the lead drummer andone of the troupe founding members.

The African Women Coalition received a grant in 2002 andis described as “a multicultural group that emphasizes working withimmigrant and refuge women from Africa,” by Janet Campbell, thespokesperson for the Coalition.

The Coalition provides services for its 110 members, rangingfrom referrals to health clinics to taking the women throughcitizenship classes.

“We help women get settled, finding food, shelter and clothing,”Campbell said.

Describing the government stipends refugees receive as “minimal… $600 to cover a family with four members,” Campbell and theCoalition advocate for the women surrounding “basic things we takefor granted.” Desrcribing the work the African Women Coalitionhandles, Campbell listed issues such as obtaining a social securitycard as well as being expected to work not knowing English,different ways of dressing and other U.S. customs.

“We hope it was informative and entertaining and we thank PSUstudents and community members who volunteered at the event,” Jamasaid. The night was filled with a diverse group who may havelearned something new or enjoyed the celebration of their ownculture.

“It was a success. This is my third year at PSU and I’ve neverseen it like this,” Jama said.

The Kukatonon Children Dance Troupe is not funded throughPortland Public Schools and relies on donations from the community.A benefit performance will be held May 21 at 7 p.m. at WoodlawnElementary School in the Self-Enhancement, Inc. Auditorium, 3920 N.Kerby Ave.

Tickets are $12.50 for adults, $6.50 for children. For moreinformation, call 503-916-6282.