AREA - The African Research & Exchange Academy
The African Research & Exchange Academy is based in Kumbo, Cameroon. ArtDialogue is preparing a program for young women and girls called "Rites of Passage". We are honored to be working closely with A.R.E.A.'s founder, Dr. Ajume Wingo, Associate Professor of Philosophy and Director of the Center for Values & Social Policy at Colorado University. Dr. Wingo is also Associate of the Du Bois Institute of Harvard.
The program, scheduled to begin in June, 2015 brings youth from Africa and the West together in a mutual learning environment based in sustainability, transformation, and social change. The traditional culture of Kumbo offers a model for the 'global village' of the future, based in a creative, particpatory aesthetic, that is tied to the environment of both polis and nature. The recent film, "Kumbo Kola", by AREA scholar and PhD student Adam Pérou Hermans, is based on the kola nut and it's complete integration into the economic, aesthetic, and historical culture of the Nso.
"Initiation recapitulates the sacred history of the world. And through this recapitulation, the whole world is sanctified anew... [the initiand] can perceive the world as a sacred work, a creation of the Gods." Mircea Eliade
As globalization both unifies and segregates our post-modern world, youth, especially girls, are in danger of growing up without any rituals or initiation into adulthood as has been practiced in every traditional culture on our planet since time immemorial. This program aims to bring young women and girls from around the world to the indigenous tribe of Nso in Kumbo, Cameroon, to prepare them for the transition from childhood and adolescence into adulthood. In learning and celebrating through collective rituals, based on both African, Native American and European traditions, students will gather knowledge in the preparation for the fundamental changes that will begin to happen in each person as they come of age. This course is a marking of time, a ritual rite of passage, as the girls turn into women and learn to be independent, educated, spiritually enlightened members of the communal society to which they will soon be contributors. In Kumbo, they will have moral instruction, learn social responsibility by studying local tribal practices and history, and be introduced to a long-standing connection to the earth that women since the beginning of time have intuitively stewarded.
As the Nso tribe is traditionally matriarchal, there is an inherent respect for women and their power, traditionally connected to the land. Tribal elders, will welcome the young initiates in a 3 week intensive program that includes learning local wisdom and herbal lore, art, music and dance, as well as drawing from other indigenous cultures such as native American and Celtic. During the time period, this marking of passage will consist of three phases for the students:
1) Removal from the original habitat of the student: change in diet, clothing, housing, language. Initiates will be clothed in local attire, eat native food, listen to village music and learn to dance; they will hear the sounds of the Cameroon jungle at night. As the program is international, each student will be immersed in the languages of other initiatives, (which will include 50% African girls/young adults).
2)The initiates will receive their rites of passage through both physical and spiritual transformative experiences via talks, walks, rites, sharing, art-making, and passing-of-knowledge sessions. Obviously no bodily mutilation OF ANY KIND will be practiced (which has never been the case in Nso culture). The role of medicinal herbs and plants will be introduced. It is a symbolic death of the old self and birth of a new self. Each girl will be given a new name, if the new knowledge is accepted. The initiate may participate in creating and using artworks as a way of learning about the functions as well as the aesthetic and symbolic qualities of objects. All girls will be completely protected and nurtured with individual female "aunties" and elders throughout the initiation process.
3)re-initiation into the community: roles and responsibly of being part of community and embrace roles of adulthood. A joyous celebration, the public performance of music and dance, and the display of initiation artworks allow family and friends to recognize the initiates' achievements and new skills. The young participants gain a feeling of affiliation with one another and a sense of accomplishment after the rites.
African arts of initiation help the students understand the good character, knowledge, and positive values expected of adults in a healthy, functioning society. Depictions of the human body, which serve as the vehicle for the public display of ideal moral and social qualities, convey these values. Sculptural and performing arts used in coming-of-age rites emphasize the acquisition of special skills and knowledge that not only are part of initiation training but also come into play throughout one's lifetime. Creating artworks during this experience in Cameroon will bring the initiates a parallel model for future social interactions both on an interpersonal level as well as communal. It builds, via the aesthetic and spiritual pathways, a vision for a way of life in this difficult world, and helps each initiate to discover their own special mission and contributions to the world that awaits them.
"In the West, you are always trying to 'find yourself'. In Africa, we have it the opposite. A developed person is one who has successfully 'lost themselves' -into the community". Dr. Ajume Wingo, Founding Director of A.R.E.A.