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Cultural clubs create opportunities for students to see beyond their scope of understanding

A combination of photos from Cook Islands and Afro World Chapters' performances from Culture Night in 2019.

Before the cancellation of this year’s Culture Night, club members and leaders reflected on the experiences they had teaching others about their cultures.

Thomas George, a junior from the Cook Islands majoring in information technology and president of the Cook Islands Club, said teaching others about his culture has been challenging but fun and a good opportunity.

“The way we move [in the Cook Islands] is natural to us, but for others it’s not natural to them,” said George. He shared some of the challenges they experienced during Culture Night practice were teaching the different dances and chants for their performance.

As he taught, George said he asked his mother for advice multiple times. “My mom does cultural performances and teaches dance back at home … I [found] myself asking [her] for all her tips.”

George said translating their music and chants to help non-Cook Island students understand what they’re saying is what he most often needs help with. “We [were] using some old-school chants and music, so being able to translate and teach the chapter members the meaning behind [the words] was important.”

One of the chants the Cook Islands Club was preparing is called Muteki, said Megan DeJong, a junior from Colorado majoring in psychology. DeJong said Muteki is all about the creation. She said she enjoyed it because of its deep religious meaning and the way it made her feel the Spirit.

George said, “If we get to know each other’s cultures, it’s like getting to know them. It brings us together … and we’re moving closer to that when we become one ohana.”

It can be difficult to teach others about your culture, said Jackie Morris, a junior from Virginia majoring in social work. Morris is a part of the Afro World Club presidency.

“There are always certain topics that are just harder to talk about. If we’re talking about dance, everyone loves [to] dance. If we’re talking about food, everyone loves to eat. But if we’re talking about struggles … those things are harder to talk about and teach,” said Morris.

Though difficult, it is not impossible to learn of others' struggles, said Adriannah Metta, a senior from Papua New Guinea majoring in anthropology and Pacific Island studies.

Through the Afro World Club, Metta said she learned about the African Diaspora. African Diaspora is the term used to describe the mass dispersion of Africans during the Transatlantic Slave Trade.

This diaspora led people from the African continent throughout the Americas and Europe. Before joining Afro World, Metta said she didn’t know there were Africans “even in the Dominican Republic, Spain and France.”

What makes Afro World unique is the diversity which exists in the club, said Morris. “The diversity [in the club] made me want to join because there is not a lot of African representation here.”

Due to the club focusing on Africans throughout the world, there are perspectives from the Caribbean and the United States as well.

Learning about other people’s cultures is important, but understanding others matters more, said Metta. “It’s more about understanding. You can learn as much as you want about a culture, but if you don’t understand it, it’s no use.”

Learning about Cook Island culture has helped DeJong feel more of God’s love for all of His Children, she said. “God loves all of His children, and He loves all of their cultures."

“It’s really eye-opening, you don’t realize how much of a bubble you're in until you get out of the bubble and it’s cool to see how people experience their lives,” said DeJong.

Morris said, “I think a lot of our concerns and hesitation and apprehensiveness today is a result of a lack of communication. If we want to learn [about other cultures] … just ask.”

Learning about culture through performance

Dance has been an important part of Kathryn Omae’s life. Omae is a junior from Papua New Guinea and is a graphic design major. She said she loves the Afro World Club in large part because of the dancing.

“I love the way they dance, that [was] the main attraction [for] me to join them. I love the moves and music. So, learning how they dance adds to my own dance experience.”

Omae said her love of dance stems from her upbringing in Papua New Guinea. In the islands, any celebration involves dancing and performances, explained Omae.

According to Omae, dance describes the culture. The way people dance in their culture tells her “so much about the kind of people they are.”

George echoed this sentiment when he said, “If they know the meaning behind the performances … they get a feel for us as a people.”

While teaching Afro World Ckub different dances for their Culture Night performance, Morris said she tried to teach them about why they included certain dance-moves. “I would say, ‘This dance comes from Nigeria, or these trends are popular in Ghana right now,’” explained Morris.