Culture rings on African Night

Willi Jacques, Kpandi Lumeh and Helen Yiga discuss their next move in the play at African Night on April 16. African Students Association hosted the event to join cultures together.

Jessica Enwesi

An evening of food, performances and insight into different African cultures was the overall experience of African Night 2016, which was hosted by the African Students Association on Saturday.

Kelly Ikemenogo, junior in graphic design, is the creative director for the association.

Since he is new to the position, Ikemenogo was excited for the festivities to begin.

“I’m really not as nervous as I think I should be, but I’m kind of glad I’m not,” Ikemengo said. “The pressure is kind of real, especially because this is my first time directing something this huge, so that’s the only thing that’s a little [nerve-racking].”

As ISU students and family members representing African nations including as Ghana, Nigeria, Liberia and more flocked into the Scheman Building to enjoy a night of art and tradition, they were not disappointed.

The night began with a complementary dinner that embodied the different foods common in their country of origin.

The plates, filled with fried plantain, Moroccan grilled chicken, Botswana stewed greens and Jollof rice – a rice cooked in a tomato stew – adorned the tables at the Scheman dining hall and were promptly met with delight from guests.

“I thought the food was great,” Offei Adarkwa said. “I had a little bit of everything.” 

Adarkwa, who is originally from Ghana, is currently attending Iowa State to conduct post-doctorate research in civil engineering. A friend of his invited him to African Night 2016, and Adarkwa said the food was a nice highlight to the night.

The food was not the only thing that made the night memorable. The African Students Association spent months preparing for the performances they say were unlike any others performed in the past.

“We are trying to showcase Africa as a whole,” Ikemenogo said. “People don’t always see the full diversity of Africa and that is what we want to show tonight. We’ve been having a lot of practice time and we want to execute great performances this year.” 

With this new message in mind, the members of the African Students Association collaborated and tossed around ideas that could encompass the ideas and values that Africans hold dear.

The members organized a play, titled “Confessions,” which dealt with the customs often experienced within a traditional African home, and more specifically, a traditional West African family.

“The basis of the play was an idea that I pitched during a meeting and we just ran with, with the help of Mumbi [Kasumba] and Reem [Alkhalil], who are the other play writers,” said Tre Moore, junior in journalism and mass communication and one of the play writers of “Confessions.”

The play writers wanted everyone in the audience to be able to resonate with the situations expressed in “Confessions.”

“They helped to incorporate a lot of the African dialogue from different countries, and I helped incorporate some of the more African-American things about the play,” Moore said. “The plot is that an African-American guy comes to Africa and has [his own] experience. It’s kind of like ‘Coming to America,’ but in reverse.”

The play showed the comical and often cliché dynamics between African parents and their children, which resulted in applause and tears of joy from the audience.

“We didn’t want [“Confessions”] to be too funny or too goofy, so I suggested that we should have a deeper meaning to the play, so we [could] tackle some of the problems we see in a household in a country in Africa,” Moore said.

One issue that “Confessions” brought to the audience’s attention was the high-pressure expectations that children often feel from their African parents.

“A lot of [ISU African] students really struggle when they can’t meet those expectations, so we [added] themes like that within the play,” Moore said. “[The audience may] start thinking it’s going to be a typically funny play, but there’s actually some serious things in there.”

The audience laughed when the father in the play scolded his son for receiving a B on his mid-term exams instead of an A and sympathized with the child when he expressed to his parents and friends he had no desire to attend medical school.

By the time the play had finished and the actors gave their final bow, the applause could not be contained.

The event also featured a fashion show, spoken word presentations and an Egyptian flute performance.

A new non-profit organization, Acts 2 Collective, which aims to help impoverished women and children in African countries such as Ghana, Sierra Leone and Chad, was also present at the event and helped raise funds by selling handmade backpacks and handbags.

Representation is part of the reason why the African Students Association hosts the event each year. 

“We are trying to connect African students throughout this entire campus and people who want to be involved with this organization, to be proud of their African heritage and hopefully take pride in who they are,” Ikemenogo said. “This isn’t only exclusive to African students because it’s for everybody. We want to make sure that everybody can find their heritage.”