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"Time for Colombia to be in Africa": A Report on the 6th PAWA Annual Lecture

 

Have you ever wondered what relationship exists between Africa and countries of African descent in the western hemisphere? I did not until I heard about the 6th Pan African Writers Association Annual Lecture under the theme “Africa, the Third Root of Colombia”. I did not hesitate to accept the invitation to attend. This is a good opportunity to learn, I thought to myself.

 

When I entered the PAWA House, I was glad to know that I was not the only one interested in learning about the influence of our heritage on people of African roots in the diaspora. There were nearly 300 people in gathered at the Wole Soyinka and Naguib Mahfouz Courtyards in the PAWA House. These included media people, writers from across the country, members of the diplomatic corps, and generally people who appreciate the literary arts. The Benin Writers Association also made a good representation that the event with a delegation of about 30 people.

 

The lecture was held to mark the celebration of the 23rd International African Writers’ Day which falls on November 7 every year. Prof. Atukwei Okai, the Secretary-General of the Pan African Writers’ Association, giving a background of the lectures mentioned that the International African Writers’ Day was instituted in 1991 at a meeting of African Ministers of Culture and Education in Cotonou, Benin. The move to set such a day aside is a laudable one as it indicates that we have come to a place where we think the needed recognition is given to writers who the Professor describe as “soul-seduced, conscience-encouraged and duty-bound to raise their peculiar oil lamp of inspiration and insight over the dreams and dilemmas, trials and tragedies, over the haunted heritage and current horrors of our peoples’ journey into the future.”

 

The speaker for the lecture, Diana Uribe, is a graduate of philosophy and literature. She has taught extensively in universities across Columbia and the US. She also has extensive experience in the media, hosting TV and radio shows. Currently, she directs the radio show “World History”. Uribe has won several awards including an International Peace Prize in the Philippines. She also has several publications on the history of the world to her name.

 

In an interesting and uncharacteristic way, Diana Uribe showed us the similarity between Africa and Colombia. She employed maps, pictures, and music video clips to drive her point home. According to her, she was “showing us ourselves through her country”. She started the discourse by showing us where Africa and Colombia lie on the world map and how she interestingly used 16 hours to travel the short distance between her country and the continent of Africa – something she could have done in about six hours.

 

Uribe described India and Spain as the first two roots of Colombia and Africa as the third. In everything she told and showed us, it was clear that African culture links itself to the history of Colombia. Given that she is a well-travelled woman, she had enough evidence to prove to us that Africa is in Colombia. Specific points of connectedness that were pointed out in the lecture included the music – rhythms and musical instruments – of the two places, the food, dressing, festivals such as Carnival of Barranquilla and even folklore told in some parts of Colombia.

 

Using Cartagena in most of her examples, she showed pictures of black women in bright dresses carrying mounds of fresh tropical fruit or coconut sweets in aluminum bowls on their heads – much like what happens in the streets of Accra. These women and all those depicted in the other images known as palenqueras who we saw in Uribe’s presentation depict the survival of the African heritage in a foreign land.

 

Listening to the presentation, and especially looking at the pictures scroll on the projector screen, was like looking at the image of someone you know very well that is not you yet you are having a hard time convincing yourself that it is not you in the picture. Africa has a doppelganger and that is Colombia and some countries in Latin America. The similarities are so sharp Uribe intimates that an African would feel very much at home walking on the streets of Cartagena in Colombia.

 

Dr. Joyce Aryee who was the chairperson for the evening described the event as a gathering of intellectuals. She was full of praise for the organizers – the Pan African Writers Association and the Ghana Association of Writers. She lauded the initiative and particularly commended the Deputy Minister of Culture, Tourism and Creative Arts, Dzifa Abla Gomashie who was in attendance, for her continued support for the arts. Another person who was highly praised is Her Excellency Claudia Turbay Quintero, Ambassador of Colombia to Ghana, who has always used her love for literature to build stronger ties between Ghana and Colombia.

 

There were two points of reflection for me in this event. First, it was interesting to see that the heritage that we (Africans) are doing everything to exchange for westernized forms of doing things is still thriving in the lands where it is expected to be extinct. The African people who were taken from the shores of our land several centuries ago have kept the African legacy and passed it down to several generations after them. It is a shame that we who are in the land of origination are easily discarding our culture.

 

While delivering her closing remarks, Dr. Joyce Aryee kept repeating the statement, “Africa is in Colombia. It is time for Colombia to be in Africa”. The whole point of this statement is that it is not enough to only know that there are several levels of connectedness between Colombia and Africa. We need to begin to capitalize on the heritage we share and use it to the advantage of both the country of Colombia and the continent of Africa. We should, therefore, start seeing ourselves as one people and stick together. This is the starting point. Then we can chart the path for further discourse on how we can collaborate to develop the two places.

 

The PAWA Annual Lecture was instituted to invite prominent sons and daughters of Africa and the Diaspora who have excelled in any field of endeavour literature, politics, science, religion to discuss an issue outstanding in terms of its consequences for the African condition. The lectures have hosted the likes of Prof. Ali Mazrui from the Binghamton University, USA, Nadine Gordimer, a Nobel Literature Laureate from South Africa, Dr. Nathan Shamuyarira from Zimbabwe, Dr. Femi Osofisan and Emeritus Professor J. H. Kwabena Nketia from Ghana.

 

 

23nd iawd celebration