Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Vol. CLIV, Issue 10
Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Celebrating Taste of Africa

Photo by Eddie Buchko

If you happened to wander into Reid Campus Center last Sunday evening, you may have been greeted with a flurry of divine aromas, endless flags and amazing music coming from the Young Ballroom. 

That event has been in the works for the past few months. WASA (Whitman African Students Association) has been hard at work, discreetly organizing the largest heritage event of the year, Taste of Africa, centered around the theme “Roots and Routes.”  

Before you entering the ballroom, students could smell a beautiful aroma accompanied by an impossible to miss line weaving towards African food from Piri Piri chicken and fried okra with tilapia to coconut red beans.

As the lights dimmed and attendants of every sort — student, faculty and staff — sat down, the 12 graduating seniors who were part of the event were commemorated for their work in WASA, and their dedication to Whitman’s larger campus community. The acknowledgments continued, with a celebration of Whitman’s growing African community, and a celebration of the largest class of African students — which has welcomed students from Malawi among others that have yet to be represented in the event till this year. 

Wayne Mckay, a student and music producer followed the initial kickoff with two electric originals the he wrote and produced himself, was joined by Angel Baikakedi for vocals. They were followed by a poem, and an incredible story that prefaced a dance, highlighting the generational, longstanding and ever-present effects of brutal colonial rule and mining labor across Africa. 

Next up, a red carpet-paved walkway for a fashion show took the spotlight. Filled with energy and excitement, each student wore traditionally-inspired outfits that represented their country while spectators enthusiastically cheered them on. Walking down the aisle, the students showcased their outfits on stage before walking off as the next pair took over. 

Sybella Ssewakiryanga, vice-president of WASA, was a large part of the effort and spearheaded advertising, poster-making and even taking part in the fashion show and dance performances. Recounting past events, Ssewakiryanga says during her time at Whitman, Taste of Africa has always been a uniquely special experience. 

Ssewakiryanga added that the event’s mission is exactly what the event’s title says: to bring a taste of home to Whitman for African students.

“Because we are in the USA, we wanted to bring our culture with us. Most members of WASA are international students, ” said Ssewakiryanga said. “Taste of Africa is an event to showcase our culture and showcase the things that we love about our various countries, the food the music, styles and things like that.”

Beyond a celebration of Whitman’s African community and it’s various cultures, the event is also an opportunity to share traditions and educate the rest of the community in a fun, engaging way. 

“It’s also an informational session to give people an understanding about stories from various African countries and fun stuff like a fashion show to show what people wear in different African countries. It’s an informational event but it’s also an entertainment event and a cultural showcase,” Ssewakiryanga said.

The multifaceted event even took time to showcase Whitman’s study abroad opportunities in Africa, detailing what your semester abroad could look like in Cape Town, Morocco, Ghana, Tanzania, Cameroon and more — even featuring a detailed testimonial from WASA’s president, explaining what it was like to spend a semester learning at the University of Ghana. 

Ssewakiryanga says the key to a successful event is enthusiasm.

“The number one thing that we try to do is bring as much energy as possible. Generally speaking, Africans also like to say that we’re really loud all the time, so we try to bring that out as much as possible when we’re at Taste of Africa,” Ssewakiryanga said. “That means cheering people on during their performances, the fashion show and bringing lots of energy so that people in the crowd can also feel that energy and be excited for the performers and participants.” 

She added that the event is wide open for anyone and everyone who wants to learn more about cultures they may be well acquainted with, or know nothing about.

“I would say it’s a super exciting event for anyone who wants to come if they’re African, if they’re not African to just have a good time,” Ssewakiryanga said.

As people continue to celebrate the excellent success of this year’s highly anticipated event, Ssewakiryanga is looking to expand next year. Her experience every year she’s attended the Taste of Africa event has been an amazing one, and she looks forward to making it happen again next year. Ssewakiryanga says students crave more events like this one, and she wants to continue providing a wider variety of events celebrating African culture. 

For Ssewakiryanga and the rest of WASA, sharing African culture with campus and creating a space so students can learn about and celebrate their (and others) heritage is the most important mission, and for them, Taste of Africa is the perfect place to get that done.

Editor’s Note: Sybella Ssewakiryanga is a news writer for The Wire. 

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