Sun, Feb 20, 2005 - Page 2 News List

Festival celebrates black roots, debunks stereotypes

RAISING AWARENESS An event held in conjunction with Black History Month gave visitors a glimpse into African history and culture, with plenty of song and dance as well

By Mo Yan-chih  /  STAFF REPORTER

Alex and Pan Africanan, a group of professional drummers, performed in the Black History Month celebration held yesterday.

PHOTO COURTESY OF DESCENDANTS OF AFRICAN PEOPLE

What do you know about black culture? Hip-hop? Rap? NBA basketball? A festival held to celebrate black culture and history yesterday went past the stereotypes to show the diversity of the black community, beyond Michael Jordan and Michael Jackson.

Hundreds of people explored the rich culture and traditions of African descendants in the Black History Month Celebration at Taipei Huashan Culture and Art Center. The event included a market featuring African jewelry, clothes and food as well as performances of African singing, dancing and poetry.

"This is a positive event for us to learn about other cultures," said attendee Suzan Babcock, a lecturer in the English Department of National Taiwan Normal University. "It is important to support people who are willing to share their cultures and try to change some wrong perceptions about the group."

Organized by Descendants of African People (DAP), a group of African descendants living in Taiwan, the event provided an enriching cultural experience for both the foreign and local communities through various activities.

"This is a celebration of the achievements of the African people from around the world," said DAP co-founder Jaleea Price. "It is also a connection of black history and culture between various regions and countries in the world."

According to Elissa Russell, another DAP co-founder, Black History Month is a four-week-long celebration of African-American history that dates back to 1926. Every February, various events are held to promote knowledge of black history and raise awareness of black people's cultural heritage.

Elissa said that in the same spirit, DAP wants to share black heritage and the commemorative holiday with Taiwan.

"In addition to sharing the culture with others, this event is also an enriching experience for ourselves to learn from the international black community with blacks from America, Canada, Belize, Somalia and all parts of Africa," she added.

The one-day event was filled with African-style crafts, music and dance. Some hip-hop dancing was unavoidable, but there was also a West African drum show, poetry-reading about the history of African immigrants in ancient China, lessons on the history of African music and even a hair-braiding booth.

Hair-braiding stylist Lylianne Diedhiou came to Taiwan a year ago to learn Chinese at National Normal University. DAP members said Lylianne's hair-braiding skill ended their long search for the perfect hair salon in Taiwan.

"The texture of black hair is usually coarser," Price explained. "It's hard to find hairstylists in Taiwan to do perfect hair-braiding for us."

According to DAP members, many people now consider hair-braiding a fashion, and more and more white people have begun to braid their hair too. However, for Africans, hair-braiding comes from their culture and is one of their historical traditions.

In addition to performances and displays, the event also showed off achievements and contributions worldwide. There were slide shows of African leaders from around the world such as Nelson Mandela, and various black leaders such as Lewis Howard Latimer, who invented an electric lamp with an inexpensive carbon filament and a threaded wooden socket for light bulbs.

DAP also shared black history, from the earliest days when blacks lived on the African continent, to the slave trade beginning in the 1450s to the banning of slavery and the development of new cultural identities across the globe.

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