“We have been at the forefront of Seattle University’s social justice mission. Since 2011 when we began this commemoration on our campus, we have welcomed all members of the campus community and folks from the greater Seattle area to our events that have featured first-rate scholars, activists and creative souls of multiple specializations,” said Saheed Adejumobi, a professor at Seattle University who specializes in history and global African studies.
Selam Creative teaches volunteers a traditional Ethiopian dance at SU’s annual Africa Day.
Adejumobi, along with other professors, the African Student Association and various other members of the university community, organized the 10th annual Africa Day celebration last Thursday.
This year, the keynote speaker was Nwando Achebe, a history professor at Michigan State University. She is also the daughter of Chinua Achebe, the well-known author of several books including “Things Fall Apart.”
Like her father, Nwando is also an author of several books, including “Female King of Colonial Nigeria.”
The title of Nwando Achebe’s lecture was “Marital Crises, National Anxieties: Polyandrous, Woman-To-Woman, and Child Marriages in Colonial and Post-Colonial Nigeria.”
In her lecture, Achebe talked about traditional marital customs in Nigeria, some of which grant more freedom to those in the marriages and some of which are problematic.
One of the misunderstood marital traditions in Africa is polyandrous marriage and the marriage of two women.Achebespecificallyaddressed marriages in Nigeria. Traditionally in Nigeria, it is common for men to have multiple wives, or for wives to have multiple husbands.
Also, gender is seen as fluid, and changing of gender identification is normalized. In some traditional marriages, one woman changes her gender to male and acts as the husband in the marriage. Christian colonizers condemned these forms of marriage, and traditional African marriage forms have been suppressed and attacked by outside forces.
However, Achebe said, there are some troublesome forms of marriage that are still taking place in Nigeria, like child marriage which typically involves an older man marrying a much younger girl. For example, the current Deputy Minority Leader in the Senate of Zamfara State, Nigeria, named Ahmed Sani Yerima recently paid $100,000 for a 13-year-old child bride.
Achebe is very passionate about the problem of child marriages, and in an interview after the event, she spoke about her hopes to be an activist and an advocate for change.
“I try to use whatever voice I do have to speak out against injustices, and that’s what I hope I continue to do in this part of my career. When I see bad things happening, I can’t just pretend I didn’t see them. I want to use my voice for good,” Achebe said.
Many students said they learned something new about African marriages following Achebe’s lecture, including sophomore Joli Welch.
“I kind of knew about some of the marriage practices in Africa from reading the book ‘Things Fall Apart,’” Welch said. “However, I didn’t know that gender is seen as fluid and that a woman can become a man in a marriage. I think that it is interesting and nice that gender is seen as fluid, because even though that concept is gaining more acceptance lately, it is still a big issue.”
Naimi Sanari performed two poems: “I’m Innocent” and “I Am Tired.” The poems gave insight into the discrimination that Muslim women face every day. Sanari delivered the poems in a passionate and touching fashion. Naomi Wachira, an Afro-Folk singer who was born and raised in Kenya, played the guitar and sang several songs.
“I am a storyteller. I believe that when we tell stories, we shed our labels, the labels we put on each other,” Wachira said. Some of the songs she performed included “Beautiful Human” and “Anywhere.”
Selam Creative, a smiling and energetic presence, got the crowd involved in some traditional Ethiopian dancing. She moved among the tables of people while dancing, and during one song she got a group to stand up with her and join in on a dance that she taught.
Selam Creative performs a traditional Ethiopian dance at SU’s annual Africa Day.
The Africa Day celebration sought to instill greater appreciation of African culture, shine a light on the issues that often go unnoticed by most in society and create more productive allies in the community.
As Achebe said in an interview, “If you want to be an ally, you have to listen and truly hear what it is that African people are saying. We are equal partners. It is not one group dictating the way the relationship should be. It is a partnership where we listen to each other and truly hear each other. We can learn from each other, but it has to be an equal relationship.”
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