BY DAVID GARBETT
While the rest of Boston was freezing through Saturday night, the Harvard African Law Association (HALA) was transporting the Ropes-Gray Room to the equatorial warmth of Africa. With food, fashion and music, it did the trick.
“It’s a celebration of culture,” remarked 2L Saratu Nafziger, President of HALA, and organizer of the Africa Night festivities.
The event is in its third year here at Harvard Law School and it has proved to be popular with students. Nafziger estimated that “about 300 people” attended Saturday night and that a similar number had come the year before.
If 1L Joyce Ahn was reflective of the rest of the attendees, then the audience seemed to like it. “It was fun attending a cultural event on campus,” she offered. “It was great watching the girls on my floor in their traditional African attire.”
Africa Night was devised to present African culture to law students at HLS. In order to do this HALA drew on four different themes: music, dance, fashion and food. Law School students, Harvard undergraduate and graduate students and others from the Boston community made the presentations possible.
One such presenter was Mimouna Diallo of Silimbo, a Senegalese dance and drum troupe. Diallo, who is a professional dancer, moved to Boston a few years ago after traveling back and forth between America and her native Senegal to make dancing appearances. Her rousing number included some impressive footwork set to nothing but drum music. She managed to pull a few audience members up to the front of the room and given more time might have created her own Harvard Law Senegalese dance group.
Of course, the rhythmic mood had already been set by the act that preceded her: the gum boot dancers. Created by mine workers in South Africa preparing for the cold of the mine shafts, this dance involved a lot of stomping in large, rubber boots on stage.
“African dancing is not running with spears,” stated May Nambwere, one of the performers. She and Yvonne Sangudi, otherwise known as the “high school dancers” to those in attendance, wanted to represent the continent through dance. They performed two dances from East Africa. Though both were Tanzanian, they admitted “Congo [Kinshasa] has the best music.”
Mugambi Kiai, an LL.M. candidate from Kenya, emceed the event. He kept the night moving along and provided a lively presence on stage. He even managed at one point, when the music unexpectedly stopped during the fashion show, to provide his own song and dance.
Africa Night was not just about dancing and music. It also included a lot of free food.
“It wasn’t spicy at the start but as I ate a lot of it my mouth burned,” said 1L Christina Olson when asked about the food at the event. It was the first time that she had tried African food and she enjoyed it.
The one responsible for all of the food was Margarethe Sangudi. Excited to talk about the Tanzanian cuisine that she had prepared, Sangudi said that she had been doing this for a long time and loved it. Among the items she made were Maandazi, which are “African doughnuts” that look more like doughnut holes, and her “secret smoked rice.”
One-L Alpana Gupta liked the food too. Her favorite dish was a seasoned mix of cabbage and peas. “The Tanzanian food adds a little variety to my diet.”
“Extravagant and flamboyant” were the words that Nafziger used to describe African fashion. With Harvard students as models, HALA gave everyone a taste of the bright and bold character of African clothing. Most of the clothing was from western African nations. Nafziger confessed: “I think I’m biased but West Africa is the fashion trend setter for the continent.”
She described the fashion show as one of the harder events to organize because of the time involved in finding and then preparing models. One relief for her this year was that she found others to provide the clothing. “Last year we used my wardrobe.”
Nafziger, who is Nigerian, moved to the United States to start school at Boston University. She said that this was something that she had always planned on doing and was expected in her family. Her parents also studied in the United States. However, her mom missed Nigeria and took the family straight back after she had finished school.
The notion of leaving Africa to study abroad is not uncommon. One-L Reni Adadevoh’s parents also left Nigeria to come to the U.S. for university studies. They decided to stay after finishing.
Nafziger pointed out that “the sense of community here is not the same as in Africa,” and that this is one of the main differences that she had noticed between life in Nigeria and the U.S. “People don’t bend when they greet their elders.”