August 31, 2016

Does South Africa's naked festival exploit young girls?


Ever heard of Umhlanga?


South Africa's Reed Dance is an eight-day annual festival in late August, early September that takes place in the royal palaces of both the kings of Swazis and the Zulus, in Ludzidzini Royal Village in Swaziland, and Nongoma, South Africa respectively. This event draws tens of thousands of virgin girls from the respective regions, as well as spectators from all over the world to the event. Umhlanga was created by a Swazi mornach back in 1940, an adaptation of a much older traditional rite from the 1800's called the Umchwasho, a traditional chastity rite for young girls. The King of Zulu land, Goodwill Zwelithini kaBhekuzulu adopted this tradition in 1991. Since then, it has quickly grown into a highly anticipated event with Southern Africa's dignitaries in attendance and a yearly tourist attraction.

A test for virginity?


So, the purpose of this festival is to ensure chastity before marriage which is highly regarded in the culture and as a way to fight sexually transmitted diseases, namely HIV/AIDS. The eight-day event proceeds with a number of rituals, namely, virginity testing which all unmarried and young girls must undergo to be able to participate. A highly regarded madame would be responsible for conducting this test, which is rudimental at best since there's no medical professional involved. The girls spread their legs open for a hymen check. Others include the girls traveling to the fields for reed picking. The girls must pick the strongest and the tallest reeds so not to risk them breaking, for broken reeds mean the girl has been sexually active. The reeds they must either present to the king or the queen mother during the ceremony to help repair the royal compound's perimeter. The girls would gather and bathe in a body of water the day before they present themselves to the royals.

All unmarried virgin girls are expected to participate in this, including the royal family. They are usually distinguished by their feather crowns and usually play prominent roles during the entire ceremony. During the ceremony, the girls proceed to the palace in traditional attire made of beaded tassels and pieces of cloth worn around the waist, as well as beaded neckwear, bracelets, anklets and colorful sashes. Breasts and bottoms are exposed. They dance in procession towards the palace with their reeds in tow. They may also carry the bush knives used in cutting the reeds as a symbol signifying their virginity.




Here's the head scratcher


King Goodwill Zwelithini introduced this festival to the Zulus as a way to fight the HIV/AIDS epidemic by delaying sexual activity until marriage. The decades long tradition in Swaziland encouraged chastity and fostered solidarity among the women. What I'm not able to understand is why so much emphasis is placed on the women? If you happen to be curious, look up Southern Africa's virginity testing on YouTube (how about I give you a head start here?) that they conduct on girls as young as twelve. The madame performs the test with her bare hands sometimes with men looking on. What I would like to know is how this tradition averts the act of sex amongst teenagers and how an intact hymen is a sure-fire proof that a girl has not had sex. It has been reported that these girls have been known to avert failing the test by stuffing meat and lace in their vaginas. From my research on this subject the emphasis on educating boys and men on the matter of sexual abstinence is not nearly enough. While it's almost taboo for the girls to engage in sexual intercourse before marriage, it is okay for boys. While this may be effective in scaring the young girls straight, what about the violation of her privacy and the right to her own body? A girl has to be subject to such public scrutiny while a boy doesn't. What about the many incidences of rape or child sexual abuse perpetrated in higher percentages by men? In Africa, this is as high as twenty percent compared to the rest of the world. In South Africa alone a child under seven is being raped every three minutes, infants have been gang raped by men, causing the need for reconstructive surgery. A twelve year old girl is ashamed and afraid to speak up on sexual abuse. What it does at best is cause emotional turmoil for the girls that fail the test who may have to live out the rest of their lives as women scarred with the stigma of sleeping around, a lower value is placed on them, their bride price lowered, they become societal moral pariahs. 

Here's another, on the one hand, this tradition continues to enforce moral chastity while on the other hand thrives on exhibitionism when these girls are not allowed to wear any clothing as they parade themselves for the general public. The excuse to maintaining the tradition at status quo is that the tradition that exists today and that from the past is inextricably linked, it is not in their place to change it. It has been rumored that the king of Swaziland attends these events to find a bride, he's currently on wife #15.

This annual event has attracted perpetrators from across the globe who take images obtained at the festival and release to pornographic sites. 

Girls marked as virgins become the target of men infected with HIV/AIDS who think that sleeping with a virgin will cure them of the disease.

Women have long been exploited in many parts of the world in the confines of religion and tradition for their bodies, many want them covered and not to show a sliver of skin, others like this one, want full exposure, all in the name of keeping them out of trouble. 

We very much live in patriarchal societies where women continue to be viewed as properties and commodities. In the debate of men vs. women, what's good for the goose is not good for the gander.

August 24, 2016

Ethiopia's festival for women

Image by Rod Waddington

Celebrating the "tall green grass"


Ashenda, also known as Shadey festival is celebrated in Northern Ethiopia, namely the Tigray, Amhara and some parts of Eritrea regions. They commemorate this festival after Filseta—a two-week fasting observance by the orthodox church to honor the ascending of the Virgin Mary. In some regions it also honors Jehphttah's sacrifice of his only daughter. The celebration is mostly for the girls and women. Ashenda means "tall green grass." The girls traditionally collect grass along river banks, swamps, wetlands; each grass measuring at least 80-90cm in length. Merchants also sell some grass in the marketplace in preparation. The grass is made into an ensemble garment worn on top of their traditional cloth known as the Tilfi. They also adorn themselves in jewelry and their traditional hairstyle.

"Never pick your wife during Ashenda"

©Rod Waddington
The women are all gorgeous and charming during the celebration in their adornment and makeup. They swarm the men like bees who must give them money before they leave them alone. The women divide themselves in groups for the parade. They sing, dance and beat drums from the city square traveling in packs, visiting homes and collecting donations. It's like American halloween, only for women. The men know to have in their possession wads of cash. The celebration go on as long as 1 week in some parts of the region.

This time of year is especially exciting for women and young girls as they eagerly anticipate it. They get to show off and make some money. Some are of the opinion that it objectifies women. In true African fashion, there's a feast to follow a fasting observation, with dishes painstakingly prepared well in advance. There's also a coffee ceremony.

Ashenda's significance

The celebration is significant to the people of Northern Ethiopia and has gained popularity over the years attracting tourists that flock the region. Although the festival is for women and girls, the men also participate on its major days, playing admirers and bodyguards. It has religious, cultural, economic and political importance in that it fosters strong ties amongst the group and it's preserved and passed down the generations.
Image by Heejoo

August 20, 2016

AN EVENT FOR AFRICAN WOMEN LEADERS


2ND AFRICA WOMEN INNOVATION & ENTREPRENEURSHIP FORUM (AWIEF)


Under the theme “Accelerating women’s economic empowerment in Africa’s best interest", the 2nd edition of the premier Africa Women Innovation & Entrepreneurship Forum (AWIEF) will once again gather, from across Africa and the globe, top women entrepreneurs and women in business, thought leaders, investors, SMEs, MSMEs, international development organizations, NGOs, foundations, government policy-makers, and the media. AWIEF is a platform to discuss the role of women in Africa’s economic growth, address the challenges faced by female business-owners, analyze those challenges and proffer innovative and sustainable solutions that effectively foster the empowerment of African women and unleash their full potential for successful business entrepreneurship.

The conference will feature participation from global leading institutions and decision- makers seeking to transform the African economy with women empowerment as a driver of development.

AWIEF Founder and MD Irene Ochem

Addressing current challenges


According to Irene Ochem, AWIEF Founder and Managing Director of ICO Conferences & Events, “despite leading the world on women entrepreneurship, African female business-owners enjoy less recognition and support than their male counterparts for their contribution to poverty reduction, employment and wealth creation. AWIEF will unveil comprehensive strategies for enhanced economic participation and opportunities for women throughout the continent. We are addressing such current challenges as inequalities in access to economic opportunities, less access to finance, technology, market information, business networks, as well as gender bias in education and skills development”

She continues: “This year the AWIEF pre-conference training workshops will focus on three areas: 1) Technology in Business 2) Entrepreneurship Strategies and Creativity in Business 3) Result-Oriented Sustainable Business Development.”

The 2016 AWIEF Conference targets the broadest spectrum of participants and regional inclusion from across Africa and has received endorsement and support from many relevant African and global institutions and organizations. AWIEF will create a networking opportunity with potential business partnerships, knowledge-sharing and peer-learning. It therefore allows African women entrepreneurs compare their challenges, learn and connect across borders to enhance and expand their impact.

With a wider coverage of exhibitions, AWIEF provides the perfect continental platform to present and showcase your brands, technologies, products and services to female African decision makers, influencers and qualified buyers from diverse industry and business sectors.

AWIEF is your opportunity to be a part of a continental drive to invest in and support the empowerment of women for unleashing Africa's full economic growth and transformation. You will meet face-to-face for two days with top local and international professionals and business women from diverse industries.

Meet the leading women and esteemed speakers for the event


Speakers


AWIEF 2016 has an exciting concentration of esteemed, high-level, reputable and international speaker profiles which include:
  • H.E. Susan Shabangu, Honourable Minister of Women in the Presidency, South Africa 
  • H.E. Dr Diane Gashumba, Honourable Minister of Gender & Family Promotion, Rwanda 
  • H.E. Senator Aisha Alhassan, Honourable Minister of Women Affairs and Social Development, Nigeria 
  • Almas Jiwani, President Emeritus, UN Women Canada & Founder/CEO, Almas Jiwani Foundation, Canada 
  • Melody Kweba, President/Chairperson, South African Women in Mining Association (SAWIMA), South Africa 
  • Tara Femi-Durotoye, CEO/Creative Director, House of Tara International, Nigeria 
  • Adenike Ogunlesi, Founder/Chief Responsibility Officer, Ruff ‘n’ Tumble, Nigeria 
  • Khanyi Dhlomo, Founder/CEO, Ndalo Media, South Africa 
  • Fiorina Mugione, Chief, Entrepreneurship Section, United Nations Conference of Trade and Development (UNCTAD), Switzerland 
  • Mary Olushoga, Founder AWP Network, USA 
  • Regina Honu, Founder/CEO, Soronko Solutions, Ghana 
  • Melanie Hawken, Founder/Editor-in-Chief, Lionesses of Africa, South Africa 
  • Shimite Bello, Group President/CEO, Quintessential Group, Nigeria 
  • Thelma Ekiyor, Co-Founder/CEO, Afrigrants Resources Ltd, Nigeria 
  • Sandra L Ross, Associate Executive Director, LITE-Africa 
  • Nkemdilim Begho, Founder/Managing Director, Future Software Resources Ltd, Nigeria 
  • Christine Ngiriye, Managing Director, Africa 2.0, Rwanda 
  • Achenyo Idachaba, Founder/Creative Director, MitiMeth, Nigeria 
  • Hilda Ndude, Chairperson, Black Business Women Association (BBWA), South Africa 

AWIEF dates and venue:


Two-day Conference and Exhibition: 29 – 30 September 2016
Pre-Conference Workshops: 28 September 2016
Venue: The Civic Centre, Lagos, Nigeria


To register and attend (by email or online):

Telephone: +27 21 826 8878
Mobile: +234 814 376 9875 (Nigeria); +27 76 052 1199 (South Africa)
Email: info@icoconferences.com
Web: http://awieforum.com/
Facebook: www.facebook.com/AWIEFInitiative
Twitter: @awieforum

CLICK HERE TO REGISTER



August 13, 2016

U.S-Africa Cultural and Business Expo 2016

U.S. - AFRICA CULTURAL EXPO AND BUSINESS MATCHMAKING 2016

OCTOBER 13 - 15, 2016 IN AUSTIN, TEXAS USA.


This three-day event will include professional opportunities such as, strategies for
growth, competitive advantage, and incentives for foreign investment. Participants will
enjoy entertainment activities, cultural shows, networking events and a marketplace of
local vendors.

The 3rd annual U.S.-Africa Business Matchmaking Conference is a high-level global conference. Throughout the conference participants will stay engaged through keynote presentations, panel discussions, business matchmaking and workshops. Networking receptions will facilitate effective partnership building for businesses, investors, and government entities. The U.S.-Africa Business Matchmaking Program affords conference participants and delegates the opportunity to meet with high-level business executives, exhibitors and sponsors on a one-on-one basis.

Breakaway Matchmaking Sessions with Business Owners

The Business Matchmaking is uniquely designed to target the right contacts and fulfill your market objectives in order to establish a long-lasting relationship in U.S. and African Markets.


Brought to you by AFTV5

AFTV5 is a 501c (3) non-profit. AFTV5 promotes the development of African and U.S.
businesses by sponsoring The Annual U.S.- Africa Business Matchmaking Expo. Africa
has one of the fastest growing economies in the world and African business owners
want to establish strong U.S. partnership during this historically high growth period.

The annual US-Africa Cultural Expo and Business Matchmaking is our marquee event, which
attracted a lot of business owners last year. These business owners from Africa and the United
States will meet to discuss existing and potential business opportunities in both markets.
The event is a high-level global conference that will combine keynote presentations, panels
expo, business matchmaking, gala and networking receptions to facilitate effective partnership
building for businesses, investors and government’s entities.
Facilitated panel discussions will engage the audience with topics such as:
  •  Business opportunities in Africa and in the US 
  • Incentives to ensure foreign investment and the establishment of global companies in Africa 
  • Access to finance for African businesses to include government incentives 
  • Strategies for growth and competitive advantage 
  • Social media and reaching the market
For more information on this event including the high profile speaker line up, visit their website.

August 10, 2016

Today in Africa

In Ghana: The Homowo Festival 

Also referred sometimes by some as Ghana's thanksgiving or passover due to some similarities - the coming together and enjoying a bountiful harvest. Homowo festival is one of the biggest cultural festivals in the West African region today.

Hundreds of years ago, during their migration to the modern day Accra, the Ga people suffered severe famine in the region due to lack of rainfall that nearly ravaged them as people. They embarked on an agricultural restoration project that would eventually yield a bountiful harvest when the region finally saw a record rainfall in which they celebrated. Homowo Festival was born. Homowo, meaning "hooting at hunger" symbolizes a triumph over hunger and an abundance. It is denoted by a homecoming, a period of song and dance following a bountiful harvest in which its reaping is enjoyed by all and marks the beginning of a New Year according to their traditional calendar.

The three month long preparation and celebration goes from May to September, with the actual festival in August. It starts with a series of rituals at the beginning of the rainy season in May when the first crops, namely millet are sown and blessed by the traditional priest in anticipation of a fruitful harvest, there's a 30-day ban of drumming, music or loud noise which is believed to provide the solitude in which the gods need to work so as not to scare away the spirits of the dead, a period of rest for the farmers and fishermen follows in which the soil is sanctified and blessed leading to the festival week, picked by the traditional high priest in August, starting on a Thursday, lasting until Sunday. Two weeks before the festival is marked by song and dance, gift exchange, remembering the dead and settling of all debts and disputes amongst the people.

Thursday of the festival week is marked by a massive return of the Ga people to their homeland from all over the world, these Soobii, or pilgrims are known as the Thursday people, they visit their respective families in preparation of Homowo day. Friday marks the celebration of twins (or triplets, etc), they are covered in clay, and dressed in white clothing to symbolize purity and the high priest blesses them. Multiple births symbolize fertility for this group and therefore Friday is an especially blessed day and folks of multiple births receive special treatment. Friday is also denoted by gift giving, Friday night, Homowo eve is denoted by the firing of guns to warn the people to remain indoors to allow the wandering of the spirits of the dead through the streets.

Homowo day, Saturday is denoted by the preparation of a special dish known as Kpekpei, made of corn meal, palm nut and fish. Everyone would share in one dish, symbolizing the forgoing of age, class and importance and the focusing on oneness. Some Kpekpei is tossed at doorposts and areas of perceived spirit presence. By some suggestions, this is where the similarities lie with the Jewish Passover. Kpekpei and the unleavened bread play similar functions, also the Ga people apply read clay on their door posts to ward off evil spirits the way the Jewish apply sacrificed blood on their door posts to keep their first born son safe. People visited various homes and are welcome regardless of their  social or financial status. The day-long celebration comes to a head during the Homowo dance, a lively and uninhibited activity symbolizing the abandonment of social constraints and class and a "hooting at hunger" as if to say "what hunger, when there's abundance?"

Some sources believe that the term "Homowo" actually means "sleeping over hunger" or fasting, There's a period of fasting just before the feast, a sanctification period if you will. The high priests undergo a period of sacred atonement to usher in the festival and the new year. Regardless of what you actually believe, one thing is sure, this remains one of the biggest festivals celebrated in Ghana today.

Further reading can be found at African Events and Cheza Nami


September 16, 2015

Meet the maker of the African Barbie

The Queens of Africa Doll collection
Taofick Okoya is a man everyone outta know. But not for the reasons you might think (I mean when you think of his famous pedigree). This man is out to run the famous Barbie out of the market.  

Move over Barbie, it's The Queens of Africa coming through.

That's right! The Queens of Africa and now Naija Princesses where born out of a dire need, when he shopped around for a birthday gift for his niece, then all the shops carried mostly white dolls. Soon thereafter, he was confronted with the same issue head on when his daughter suffered from an identity crisis at 3 (that's how early it now starts people) asking her father "what color am I?" Then she had a "long face" when she learned she is Black, saying, "I wish I was white." Who can blame her when all the kids shows from Disney to Nickelodeon only feature majorly white characters and most toys are mostly slim and nonetheless, white.
Creating dolls that where not only black but African was not without its challenges, even African girls did't want to play with them, they weren't pretty enough, didn't look like the dolls they were used to and stores wouldn't carry them because there's simply no market for them (because not even the African girls would play with them... You get the gist). He did mention that at first, he did make more realistic prototypes to test the market with fuller figured bodies and traditional outfits. He realized that this issue runs deep, there's need for awareness on standards of beauty for Africans, especially the girls (not to rule the boys out), who are totally brainwashed from a young age and the unsuspecting parents who continue to feed the unfortunate cycle.

We had a long conversation on this topic so I'd let him do all the talking. I am proud to present: The Queens of Africa doll collection sold in major Nigerian outlets, online in the USA and the UK. Planned launch to stores like Walmart is soon on the horizon. So far the response is phenomenal, from South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, you name it.

What I love about these dolls is what they represent, helping our young African girls to see themselves in the dolls they play with, as opposed to holding themselves to a standard of beauty that's never meant to be theirs, causing identity confusion in children as young as toddlers.Watching a little girl call herself ugly for not being fair skinned makes me weep. What parents don't realize is the role they play in such identity crisis when as adults, we hold ourselves to standards of beauty that is unreasonable and the kids are always watching. Plans are in the works to diversify further, these dolls to include many African ethnicities, different shapes and sizes, which would be more realistic than the standard already set by Barbie. Right now there's Nneka (Igbo doll), Azzezah (Hausa) and Wuraola (Yoruba). They can be adorned in many gorgeous ethnic inspired outfits made in the factory in Surulere. Each doll represent the queens of our past. Nneka is the running favorite among girls for being the fairest.

Right now the doll bodies are outsourced to factories in China and everything else, from the hair to the outfits are made in Nigeria. There are plans to change that with the growing market, to have every part of each Queen made in Nigeria. 

The Queens of Africa have been featured on major media outlets, to include Elle, BBC, US News and Reuters. There are not just dolls, the Queens of Africa have been characterized in books with roots in African history to help educate our Future. More can be found at www.queensofafricadolls.com. Queens of Africa educational and empowerment books can be found on www.amazon.com 

Check out my exclusive interview with company CEO over morning tea.

Enjoy!


Msadaku.
Images courtesy of Queen of Africa Dolls

June 25, 2012

The (DRUM)circle

This past Sunday I went back to Meridian Hill Park to observe a long standing community tradition - the Drum Circle. I was quite intrigued when I was there the first time. Having parents of African decent and after living in Nigeria for many years, I'm quite familiar with Nigerian culture. Nigeria has about 250 ethnic groups and about 510 different languages (about 3 major languages with multiple dialects that filter through the regions). I speak Ibo, my parents are from the South, and I can tell you that certain Ibo dialects are hard to understand let alone speak. With the variety in languages, you also have different cultural groups. Each group adopts a different type of dance. Ultimate show in true cultural form are the many festivals when all these groups come together in a parade, usually quite elaborate. Notable holidays are Nigerian Independence day and the Calabar carnival. During these events there are colorful displays of tradition, culture and dance.

March 21, 2012

The Drum Circle.


Last Sunday, I talked about how I randomly ran into a group of drummers and dancers that was nothing short of amazing.  Well it turns out they have been around for 40 years!  Traditionally called the Drum Circle, musicians all around DC come together on any given "good weather" Sunday at the Meridian Hill Park and pull out their instruments and begin playing rich African tunes.  Soon after, dancers follow.  Dancers can either be experienced or brand new, everyone's welcome.

March 18, 2012

Summer's Day Out.

So my boyfriend and I were having a Summer's day out in the middle of March.  The weather was unbelievable (like it has been for a few days now, I swear I have no idea what's happening these days, blame the ozone layer...whatever).  It was a good day for walking, so we walked the streets of DC.  We started at the funky boheiman neighborhood of U street, stopping and having a meal at Busboys and Poets, one of my favorite restaurants.
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