Culture & Heritage


The WOMEN OF A NEW TRIBE project is a photographic study of the spiritual and physical beauty of the black woman. It is an attempt to see in a new light and in a new way an incredible group of women. The women portrayed represent the Black American Woman in many of her social and physical manifestations. The subjects come from all walks and stages of life, they are mothers and daughters, artists, professionals, and community activists to name a few. Through the use of black and white photography done in a style reminiscent of the high glamour photography of 1930's and 40's Hollywood, the beauty of the black women is dramatically laid bare.

The exhibition which premiered at the Afro-American Cultural Center in Charlotte, NC on 14 June 2002 continues to travel widely around the United States. It also traveled twice to Europe when the U.S. Department of State hosted exhibitions in Bratislava, Slovakia and Bucharest, Romania in 2010 and 2011 respectively. Past venues for the exhibition include: Houston, New Orleans, Pittsburgh, Kansas City, Cleveland, Dallas, Toledo, Miami, Nashville, Birmingham, Detroit, Knoxville, Durham, Jackson MS, Newport News, Asheville, Yale University, University Of Arkansas, and Bucharest Romania. The venues for the exhibitions have ranged from the grand to the small. The project has been installed in the beautiful and magnificently ornate Charles H. Wright Museum Of African American History in Detroit and the humble Dunbar Carver Museum in Brownsville, TN my hometown. It has been shown in the incredible North Terminal Gallery of the Miami International Airport during ART Basel, the world's most important international show for modern and contemporary art and its has been presented by the Bertha M. Roddey Center for Art, Research and Education in Catawba, SC a small rural community south of Charlotte, NC. As of this writing, the exhibition continues to be in demand. In the beginning the project was an attempt to see in a new light and a new way the black women who inhabit the day-to-day lives of many Americans. Now after more than a decade and a half of touring the country and producing thousands of images, the project has become something more. It has become a composite, although incomplete, of the modern American Woman of color.

  If you seek a an inspiring exhibition that will engage your community,  the WOMEN OF A NEW Project is worthy of your consideration.   Learn more at or contact us at email:  This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it  or phone: 980.236.7171.        Jerry Taliaferro, Photographer

goldenshoeSade and the Golden Shoe by Shahara Ruth possesses all the magical ingredients of a fairytale and is truly a golden opportunity for young readers to experience another side of children’s fantasy—a side to which young American readers are rarely exposed. “Sade and the Golden Shoe is an African-based folktale,” Ruth said.

“For children of color the number of books, especially those dealing with female heroines, is a narrative that is seldom seen.” Sade and the Golden Shoe’s heroine, Sade, (pronounced Shah-DAY)—beautiful daughter of adoring parents—saves her village from a curse with help from an unlikely friend. In this work of children’s literature, Ruth surrounds a West African storytelling custom with a mystical environment in a story similar to Aesop's fables, including uses of animals to communicate themes. “I had many students from Africa as well as the African Diaspora, including African Americans, who complained about routine literary selections,” Ruth said. “Sade and the Golden Shoe can certainly fill that void.”

Shahara Ruth—an Atlanta, Georgia, author, poet, film producer and educator, born in Houston, Texas—said she grew up knowing she had African roots, but could not tell you an exact place. Taught as a child to be proud of her African heritage, the adult Ruth is steeped in her African genealogy and history of Ghana as featured in the PBS series Finding Your Roots. “I read books from cover to cover, especially Atlas collections,” she said. “I was so fascinated with what I felt had to be a wonderland of beautiful places and people.”

Then Ruth found out she could take a DNA test to learn who she was and where she came from. “I jumped at the opportunity,” she said. “When the results came back and I found out my origins, I gained a sense of completeness I’d never felt before.” Ruth’s classroom experience supports her expertise in children’s literature. Featured in The New York Times, Ruth taught sixth - tenth grades in the Dekalb County Public Schools, Dekalb County, Georgia— seven years at Tucker Middle School; and three years at Druid Hills High School. “As an educator, I had the wonderful opportunity to teach children from many cultures,” Ruth said. “The experience prepared me to use universal themes to convey a message that any child from any background could identify with and understand.”

Sade and The Golden Shoe comes in multiple formats—hardcover, softcover, Braille (downloadable), eBook, and read-along interactive participation, the readand-play Microsoft app, which allows readers to create their own narrations and color pages in the book. Multiple formats improve comprehension skills while providing enjoyment of the book’s colorful contents. The reading level is 4.7. However, due to its multiple formats, folk-fairytale style and lively illustrations, Sade and the Golden Shoe will delight readers of all levels and occasions, including storytime for toddlers.

Among numerous African folktales, Sade and the Golden Shoe is a Nigerian fairytale, written from the perspective of a little girl; and crafted to intrigue all young readers, regardless of their gender, race, ethnicity or nationality, through its universal heroine. Sade and her delightful friends are offered by Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Xlibris, Ingraham, and Baker & Taylor book distributors or directly from the author for organizations, schools or autographed hardcover orders. A Spanish translation will be released April 30, 2017, to coordinate with Children's Day/Book Day - El día de los niños/El día de los libros (Día). Ruth said today’s diverse school populations require every effort toward inclusive literary selections to prevent students from feeling left out due to the lack of exposure their cultures receive in literature. “The best way to inspire children to become self motivated learners is to provide information that excites them,” she said. “When you present children with material that reflects who they are, they are more eager to learn.” 


Kris C Hou



                                   Krissie reviews Ethiopian Diaspora Chef Marcus Samuellson's C-House Fish and Chops in Chicago!

If I could pick just three words to describe the delicious food at C-House Fish & Chops, of course, besides "delicious", then "creative," "fun" and "fresh," would be the first that come to mind. I recently had the pleasure of dining at this fairly new, downtown Chicago restaurant, and I would go so far as to say that besides going to the dentist regularly, eating here was quite simply the best thing I've ever done for my palette.
On a narrow street nestled in between a mix of modern and historic buildings in the Streeterville District and just a couple blocks from Chicago's famous Michigan Avenue, sits the C-House. The sleek and polished interior, designed by Arthur Casas, is indeed beautiful, though not differing from what you would expect at any modern, upscale restaurant. Instead, as I would soon discover, it is the sophisticated tastes of Chef and Owner Marcus Sammuelson that set this restaurant apart.

As it was a nice summer day, I opted to sit outside on the street-level patio. With just the right amount of sun and the cool, cityscape view, the patio provided a seductive, urban setting.

The lunch menu, which changes often, is divided into several categories including the C-Bar, which is a mix of small, seafood -based plates, appetizers, sandwiches, flatbreads, entrees, and sides. Each dish was a playful, but balanced symbiosis of both cooked and fresh elements with many ingredients picked straight from the chef’s local garden.
First, I ordered from the C-bar a dish called the C-Bar Taste of 3. It was a delicious introduction to the C-House’s edgy cuisine. On a rectangular plate that was divided into three sections was a crunchy yellowtail taco, followed by spicy cobia ceviche, and last was pickled herring. The ceviche, a mixture of fresh chunks of cobia and citrus juices, was served with golden tortilla chips for dipping, and of these first three items, it was the most incredible. My next favorite was the yellowtail taco served on a bed of seasoned freeze-dried corn. “Freeze-dried” definitely isn’t the most appetizing word, but, with its African spices and melt-in-your mouth texture, it went surprisingly well with the taco. Last, the pickled herring was good, but not crazy good. I imagine on another day, it would have hit the spot, but on this particular day, it just wasn’t what I was craving.
The tuna trio came out next: one poached, one grilled, and one crudo style (think sashimi with citrus). What a fun, yet simple way to experience three different styles of tuna.

C_House_InteriorWe all know nothing is better than a fresh, crunchy salad, so be sure to try the heirloom apple salad while at C-House. This is what I mean by fun, fresh food. A string of mustard-seed garnish sits beside a tuft of mustard greens topped with thin slices of sweet apples and gouda cheese. Underneath this green heap of goodness is a chunk of sourdough bread. Normally, sourdough isn’t my favorite kind of bread, but with this dish, it created the perfect combination of sweet and sour, which is a key element in a good salad.

Now octopus is another thing I would not normally order, but since the server recommended it, I decided to give it a try.  Grilled and served on a bed of greens, the octopus was delicious. It didn’t have the rubbery texture that I was expecting, and that just-off- the- grill taste went perfectly with the watercress and kohlrabi, a type of cabbage.

The flatbread is perfect for those who find usual sandwich bread too thick or those who don’t want to take in too many carbs. Or for those of us who just want something that tastes damn good. It’s slightly thicker than a cracker, with a slightly softer texture, and—since it’s drizzled with olive oil—a hell of a lot more taste. The menu offered three different kinds: smoked trout, bacon and roasted apple with onion, and the tomato and buffalo milk ricotta. They each sounded equally delicious, and after the first three dishes you might think I would have been sick of seafood, but nope. I went with the smoked trout. Best decision ever. Topped with golden beets, red beets, and tender chunks of smoked trout with dollops of cream cheese in between a bed of arugula, the smoked trout flat bread was definitely my favorite thing on the lunch menu.  If you don’t do anything else with your life, try this sandwich. It’ll make it all worthwhile.

All in all, C-House gets an A. Each ingredient is perfect right down to the smallest mustard seed. If you’re in the Chicago area and you want fun, fresh, creative, and of course, delicious food, that’s just around the corner from Chicago’s other main downtown attractions, C-House is a must. The cheapest items on the lunch menu are sides at $6 while the most expensive is an entrée steak at $26. Sandwiches, appetizers, and flatbreads hover around $8-$15. Happy Eating in the Windy City.

Fore more info, visit For more info, on Chef Marcus Samuellson, visit

bronzeugandaIn western Uganda, a new award-winning sculpture gallery and art center called “Rwenzori Founders” boasts of a unique collection of high end bronze sculptures. The costly and rigorous casting process is rare in Uganda. Started nearly a decade ago, the Rwenzori founders’ art center is located in the foothills of Rwenzori Mountains in western Uganda. The gallery sits in harmony with recently the restored natural landscape. Emmanuel Basaza is the director.

“Rwenzori founders is a beautiful place. We started in 2004 slowly; we got it built by us three people going to train in England. And then from there, we came and started the project itself here on the ground in 2008, and that is the bronze casting process.”
So this is bronze. It’s very precious. But the way to sell is actually to penetrate it right. Now, penetration is a process of oxidation where we now use chemicals on bronze. This is an example. This is black and green put together. Black is potassium sulfate or ammonia Sulphate. Green is copper nitrate. I hate chemistry but i had to learn it. It’s part of the process. So, you get those put together to achieve the colors. Now the catching thing about penetration is the waxing.”

Tourists are treated to a stunning display of works cast in the gallery by a group of 16 permanent craftsmen. Pure white Ugandan marble carvings rub shoulders with soapstone and the bronze pieces created by diverse local artists.
A series of more than 30 animals in bronze are permanently on display, capturing the glory of the native species … elephants, lions, buffalos, colobus, and hippos. “Well 15 groups of people coming in a month, we might make a few sales, about 10 sales a month and on average, a basic client totem sculpture would go for $1200.”

Mr. Basaza says that these remarkable pieces of art are a reflection of the people, culture, wildlife and the beauty of Uganda.
“All of us are local to this area apart from 1 or 2. So the rest of the team is actually from this village. So we have actually promoted the same culture of bronze casting, starting with our village mates.” “This is pure bronze unhampered with. And now, this is classified as finished.”
The Rwenzori Sculpture Foundation supports the sculpture gallery, enabling cultural and educational exchanges between artists in Africa and the United Kingdom. The gallery is rapidly becoming a popular tourist destination, showcasing the best of modern African art.

Paul Ndiho is a Ugandan – American video journalist/ executive producer, Africa Innovations & Technology based in Washington D.C with interests in innovation, technology and entrepreneurship in Africa. He is passionate about mentorship and developing the next generation of Africa’s young leaders. Email: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it , Facebook: Paul Ndiho and Twitter: @pndiho

The newly formed Chineke orchestra aims to include a work by a composer of ethnicity in each of its concert programmes. John Lewis looks at some of the neglected writers whose music might finally get an airing:

sam Coleridge 

In the past 200 years, dozens of prominent black composers from America and other parts of the African diaspora have fought to be recognised by the western classical tradition. The earliest example is Chevalier de Saint-Georges (1745-99). Born in Guadeloupe, the son of a wealthy plantation owner and a female slave, Saint-George was brought to France at a young age. As well as being a champion fencer, a violin teacher to Marie Antoinette and a colonel in the republican army, his prodigious musical talents led to him being dubbed “le Mozart noir”. He was a prolific composer (with several operas, 15 violin concertos, symphonies and numerous chamber works to his name) and a rare French exponent of early classical violin composition. 


Saint-Georges would have perhaps come into contact with George ridgewater(1778-1860), a violinist of African origin born in present-day Poland. By the age of nine, his father (who was probably born in Barbados) had taken him to London, where he was shown off as a child prodigy, performing in front of the likes of Thomas Jefferson and George IV. Several of Bridgewater’s compositions survive, although few have been recorded. His story was also the basis for a 2007 opera, written by Julian Joseph. Samuel Coleridge-Taylor (1875-1912) was born in Croydon, the son of a white English mother and a Creole man from Sierra Leone. As a violin scholar at the Royal College of Music, he was taught composition under Charles Villiers Stanford and soon developed a reputation as a composer, with Edward Elgar recommending him to the Three Choirs festival in 1896. By the time he died of pneumonia – aged only 37 – he had already toured America three times and performed for Theodore Roosevelt at the White House. Compositions such as Coleridge-Taylor’s African Suite attempted to incorporate African influences in the same way that, say, Dvorák used Hungarian folk themes, but much more successful is Hiawatha’s Wedding, which is occasionally performed today. Even better are Coleridge-Taylor’s works for violin and orchestra, which are elegant pieces of fin de siècle romanticism. As Alex Ross observes in his study of modern classical music, The Rest Is Noise, the history of African American composition around the turn of the 20th century is full of sorrowful tales.  Harry Lawrence Freeman (1869-1954) founded Harlem’s Negro Grand Opera Company, but his two all-black Wagnerian operas are barely staged. Maurice Arnold Strothotte (1865-1937) studied in Berlin and wrote an opera and a symphony that were highly praised by Dvorák, but his work was rarely performed and has all but dropped off the musical map – he ended up making his living teaching violin and conducting provincial operettas. Like Strothotte, Will Marion Cook (1869-1944) also studied in Berlin and was praised by Dvorák. He was acclaimed for his Broadway shows and ragtime-influenced songs, but found it almost impossible to break into “straight” composition. Most sorrowful of all was Scott Joplin (1867-1917). The son of an ex-slave from Texas, he started as a travelling musician around the southern states, playing piano in “gentleman’s clubs”. By the turn of the century his piano rags, such as Maple Leaf Rag, had become a national sensation, but he was desperate to be taken seriously as an orchestral composer. His opera Treemonisha was all but ignored, and he died insane in 1917 after his brain was destroyed by syphilis.Other black American composers had happier endings. William Grant Still (1895-1978) wrote 150 works, studied with Edgard Varèse, was the first African American to conduct a major US symphony orchestra (the New Orleans Philharmonic), composed for Hollywood and found his works performed by leading orchestras around the world, including his 1930 Afro-American SymphonyAnd George Walker, born in 1922 and still working today, was the first black American composer to win the Pulitzer prize for music (for Lilacs, a piece for voice and orchestra, in 1996). However, for all his acclaim, he still remains a cult figure in the world of contemporary composition.  (Top photo Samuel Coleridge-Taylor) - Orginal Source -



leah chase


New Orleanian: Leah Chase

 Gambit has honored a New Orleanian of the Year for all he or she has done for the city. This year's honoree is a familiar one: Leah Chase, the pioneering chef who recently turned 93,  and who still can be found working at her iconic Treme restaurant, Dooky Chase's.

  Though many are familiar with Chase's gumbo, greens and hospitality, her role in achieving equality for African-Americans is less discussed, at least by those who have bestowed upon her some of the nation's highest culinary awards for her Creole cuisine.

You won't see her memorialized in grainy black-and-white photographs of civil rights protests, holding up protest signs or sitting handcuffed beneath the scornful gaze of baton-wielding police officers. But in June 2014, when more than 100 veterans of the Louisiana civil rights movement gathered in New Orleans to commemorate the Freedom Summer and honor the civil rights activists of the 1960s, it was Leah Chase's restaurant that everyone remembered.

"It was just a place where we felt safe," recalled Doratha "Dodie" Smith-Simmons, a key figure in the civil rights movement who was a Freedom Rider and member of the New Orleans chapter of Congress of Racial Equality (CORE).

"For a lot of the people and students who came down here to work on voter registration, their fondest memory was of going to Dooky Chase's for a meal," Smith-Simmons says. "Because of what Leah and her husband did, people didn't forget that."

2015 marked the 50th anniversary of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, a crowning achievement of the civil rights movement that prohibited racial discrimination in voting. Its passage came a year after the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and in the years leading up to both historic events, Dooky Chase's became a well-known meeting place for leaders and activists.

A younger generation of New Orleanians may have fond memories of the so-called queen of Creole cuisine and her iconic 5th Ward restaurant. They may remember her fried chicken, or her moss-hued gumbo z'herbes on Holy Thursday, and a few even may know that she was the basis for Princess Tiana, the first African-American Disney princess, in the 2009 animated musical The Princess and the Frog. If they're lucky enough to meet her, they'll remember a seemingly inexhaustible woman clad in a red chef's coat and a warm smile, who moves with ease, greeting customers and exchanging wry bits of wisdom with charismatic sass.

But the proprietor and chef at the brick mainstay on Orleans Avenue is remembered by an older generation as a steadfast leader for equality and social justice.

The oldest of 11 children, Chase was born in 1923 and grew up across Lake Pontchartrain in the then-small shipping town of Madisonville. She attended a Catholic school for black girls — St. Mary's Academy — in New Orleans, before eventually moving to the city permanently at the age of 18. Here, Chase began her love affair with food service, working for several years at a restaurant in the French Quarter before marrying Edgar "Dooky" Chase II, a trumpet player, in 1946.

Chase's husband's family opened the Dooky Chase restaurant, then a tavern selling po-boys and lottery tickets, on Orleans Avenue in 1941. It wasn't until Leah Chase came on board that she began tweaking menu items and decor concepts — imitating some of what she had experienced during her tenure in the French Quarter.

"The saddest thing about segregation for me was depriving people from learning," Chase says. "We didn't even know how to set the tables properly ... because we had no restaurants to go to."

Since most restaurants in the city were segregated, Dooky Chase's became a known outlier and safe haven; a hub where civil rights organizers and activists — black and white — could come together and strategize their next move over bowls of gumbo and red beans.

"Early on, when we were trying to bring about some social justice in the city, Leah's restaurant was a place to meet and to see if we couldn't all get on the same page," recalls Moon Landrieu, mayor of New Orleans from 1970 to 1978.

Don Hubbard, a local leader of desegregation efforts and a civil rights visionary, says Chase and her husband were "quiet warriors" who would accommodate the activists in a private upstairs dining room and always made sure that no one went hungry.

"They would always be gracious to us, even to those who couldn't afford it. She's always been able to walk a fine line, and she used food as an ambassador to broaden our community," Hubbard remembers.

Chase is characteristically modest about her role in the movement.

"My job was just to feed people," she says. "People like me could just be cooperative and support them, and that's what you did. In New Orleans, you don't do anything without eating. So they would come here and I would make gumbo and fried chicken, and they'd have lunch and plan their moves. Sometimes it was hard and sometimes it was frightening, because you didn't know who was going to come back and who wasn't."

Despite Chase's humility, Hubbard says, she was an influential person, revered for more than just her hospitality, cooking and kindness."Leah was always someone we could talk to in confidence," he says.

"If you were saying something that was more militant, she had her own way of extending the message, of making it more palatable," Hubbard says. "She had her own style while she was stirring the pot. Sometimes she'd pull us over and say, 'You really want to do it like that? Maybe you ought to try a different approach.' She always spoke with some power and our ears always perked up and listened because (we) thought that her opinion was worth something."

A longtime member of the NAACP, Chase recalls that many felt the civil rights movement at the time was "moving too slow," spurring a younger generation of activists to consider more radical approaches.

"We were always working to better the conditions for black people," Chase says. "But the (NAACP) leaders, like A.P. Tureaud and Thurgood Marshall, they thought we could move into the regular stream without offending anybody. Sometimes you can't do that. You're gonna offend somebody."

Dooky Chase's was near 917 N. Tonti Street, the home of Virgie Castle, a longtime bartender at the restaurant and the mother of civil rights activists Doris Jean Castle and Oretha Castle Haley. The house on N. Tonti became a magnet for activists at the time, a place where Freedom Riders and migrating revolutionaries, including James Farmer and James Baldwin, would crash whenever they were in town.

  "If we didn't eat there, we had food delivered from there," Smith-Simmons, who also stayed at the Tonti Street home on occasion, said of Dooky Chase's. She recalled how attorneys with the movement would deliver Chase's food to the Orleans Parish Prison when she and fellow activists were arrested.

  While Chase says she never really was frightened, she knew operating an integrated restaurant and supporting the civil rights movement was a dangerous endeavor in the segregated South; blacks attempting to organize the masses to vote were attacked, jailed and sometimes killed. Chase brushed off threats, even when someone threw a pipe bomb into the front of the restaurant.

"It hit the bar, tore the bar up and put a hole in the door, but nobody was hurt," Chase recalls. "It didn't frighten me."

"They were just outstanding citizens that saw something that needed to be done and did it, regardless of the consequences," says Smith-Simmons. "In those days, that was very brave of them to do."

In the years following passage of the Voting Rights Act, Chase's restaurant remained a mainstay on the activist circuit and a neutral ground for meetings and visiting dignitaries.

Visitors fill Dooky Chase's dining room, which is decorated with works by African-American artists. - PHOTO BY CHERYL GERBER
  • Photo by Cheryl Gerber
  • Visitors fill Dooky Chase's dining room, which is decorated with works by African-American artists.

Chase peppered the restaurant's multicolored dining rooms with works by African-American artists she purchased throughout the years to foster artistic growth among black artists.

Throughout her life, Chase has garnered accolades and awards for her constant push for progress and equality. The Southern Food & Beverage Museum named a permanent gallery in Chase's honor in 2009, she was inducted into the prestigious James Beard Foundation's Who's Who of Food & Beverage in America in 2010, and in 2011, the American Civil Liberties Union presented her with its Ben Smith Award for her efforts to promote racial equality.

Chase is still a constant presence in her restaurant's kitchen and dining rooms, where she stops to chat with friends and strangers and, if prompted, is happy to talk about her life. She likes to recount the degrees and accomplishments of all her grandchildren and says she hopes that her grandson, Edgar Chase IV, a graduate of Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, will take over the business one day.Underlying Chase's benevolent disposition and warm exterior is a determined, do-it-yourself attitude.

"We've come a long way but I think people need to do better about coming together and understanding one another," she says. "If you get to a certain place where you're on your feet, then you got to help somebody else on their feet. Whatever I can do, I try to do it.

"You have to get involved today, honey. Everybody has to make a difference."

Original Source:



love hip

The man who created the Hip-Hop Hall of Fame in the 1990s is resurrecting it on 125th Street. James “JT” Thompson is scheduled to open offices and classrooms for the Hip Hop Hall of Fame Museumin Harlem next month and plans to announce the site of the actual museum at an awards ceremony being held this spring.

“I think this is a big step for the Hip-Hop Hall of Fame in establishing itself in the cultural fabric of New York City,” Thompson said, though he wouldn't elaborate on where exactly the offices and classrooms would be until their formal opening. Thompson, who was born in Bed-Stuy and grew up in Hollis and Harlem, held the first awards ceremony to induct hall of famers at the Victoria Theater in Harlem from 1995 to 1997. The venue for this spring's event is yet to be announced.

But after the high profile murders of Tupac Shakur and the Notorious B.I.G., the show, which was aired on BET and showcased hip-hop artists and raised money for the museum, was cancelled. “All advertisers left hip-hop at that point,” he said. “It was a struggle because we didn’t know what was going to happen and the show was the main driving force to raise money for the museum.”

When it opens next month, the museum’s offices and classroom will host an educational program for young adults. The first course will be on fashion and give students a chance to learn about the industry and design techniques to develop their own products and brands.

hiphallFuture classes will include broadcasting, coding, production and business, Thompson said. “Hip-hop really cares,” he said. “People don’t realize that people in hip-hop have been giving back to the community for years.”

When the museum and Hall of Fame building opens later this year it will have a restaurant, sports bar, concert lounge, TV studios, and a retail shop. Proceeds from the annual award show will keep the museum and its educational component going, he added.

Thompson expects the facility to host 400,000 visitors and another 300,000 for live events each year.

Original Source:

Thanks to Dr. Dionne Mahaffey for this article in the Atlanta Black Star.


The Color and Flavor of Afro-Cuban Life: A Look at How Black Cubans Have Struggled Over the Years with Racial Identity and Culture


cubanAfro-Cubans have contributed greatly to the culture of Cuba with Havana having the highest concentration of Afro-Cubans in the country. However, there is great controversy about how many people of African descent there are in Cuba—some say 20 percent, while others say upwards of 65 percent. Many people of mixed race describe themselves as mulatto or mestizo, people of combined European and Latin/African backgrounds.

Although some don’t identify with the Afro-Cuban label, preferring to identify through nationality as Cubans more than by race, Blacks in Cuba struggle with racial issues and identity in much the same way as the rest of the world, with historical inequalities carrying over to modern times.

The first group of Afro-Cubans are the descendants of enslaved Africans brought from West Africa. In recent years, the country has also seen an increase of Black immigrants from Jamaica and Haiti, adding to the African flavor of the island. Despite the numbers, people of African descent are often excluded.

“We’ve seen a lot of changes and improvement in the way that Blacks are treated in Cuba since the Revolution,” says Aileen Badell, a retired journalist who worked for the Cuban Institute of Radio and Television for 18 years. “We still have a ways to go but there are black doctors, teachers, journalists, engineers and other professionals.”from the very lucrative tourism industry, where workers can earn better wages due to tips. They are also overlooked for managerial positions and other better paying jobs while being relegated to less desirable housing and neighborhoods.

In the 1960s, Castro issued anti-discrimination laws meant to deal with the economic disparity between Black and white Cubans, along with a massive literacy campaign. Two years later, he declared the Revolution’s victory over the “age of racism,” a claim which has since proven to be premature.

The government deals harshly with those who bring up issues of race.

“There is an unstated threat. Blacks in Cuba know that whenever you raise race in Cuba, you go to jail,” says Carlos Moore, who has written extensively on the issue.

During the 1920s and 1930s, Cuba experienced a movement known as Afrocubanismo, which brought Black culture to literature, poetry, painting and other arts. It highlighted the struggles of the Afro-Cuban people, dealing with independence from Spain, slavery and the adaptation of a Cuban identity.

Fernando Ortiz was a scholar who dedicated his life to learning about Cuban culture. Today, you can learn about him and his work at the Fernando Ortiz Foundation, which showcases much of his research documenting the unique culture of Afro-Cubans. The foundation is located in Havana and run as a not-for-profit center.Afro-Cubans have contributed greatly to the culture and arts scene in Cuba today. Many tributes to the history of Afro-Cubans can be found around Havana, as well as throughout Cuba. There are a number of attractions that show the modern Afro-Cuban movement, from jazz clubs to cultural events.

The Casa de Africa is a museum located in Old Havana which houses collections of artifacts and art. Collections are from 27 African countries, a combination of items from Fernando Ortiz and Fidel Castro. Many of the pieces are gifts sent to thank Cuba from the recipients of foreign aid programs. The Casa de Africa is an important center of study of Afro-Cuban Culture, boosted by the artifacts displayed.

Afro-Cuban religion is derived from the religious practices found in Africa and brought to Cuba by the enslaved Africans who were brought to the region. With many similarities to Voodoo, rituals can be bright and colorful, with dancing, chanting and drums. Many companies in Cuba offer a tour of Afro-Cuban religious sites and events in Havana, where participants can learn about these unique religions first hand. Many include visits to the homes of local devotees, along with an English speaking guide to interpret.

While Martin Luther King may be an American hero, his influence can be felt in Cuba, especially at the Centro Martin Luther King. The center promotes Christian social responsibility, providing a number of programs to help the less fortunate and educate the population. Health programs, education and social activism are the key focal points for the MLK Center.

The direct neighbor of the MLK Center is the Ebenezer Church, which promotes the values of equality and acceptance of all genders, races and orientations. The church is open and welcomes all to visit or to worship and can be found in Havana.

For an authentic taste of rumba, the fusion of Spanish and African musical styles, the Callejon de Hamel in Havana is an intense, colorful and crowded experience. Brilliant murals cover the walls, created by contemporary Afro-Cuban artist Salvador Gonzales Escalona. The site has become more popular with tourists over the years.

Every January 6 is Three Kings Day— the Epiphany—originally intended to celebrate the Three Wise Man who brought gifts to celebrate the birth of Jesus. Afro-Cubans have a long and complicated history with this holiday, using it as a way to celebrate their own saints with African drums and dancing. Historically, enslaved Africans would be dressed in finery and paraded through the streets of Havana, where whites would toss coins to them. The coins were saved in order to buy freedom. Today, Afro-Cubans have reclaimed this celebration, leading Cubans, regardless of race, in a bright, colorful parade.

Outside of Havana, the city of Matanzas is well known for its rich Afro-Cuban culture. Just 90 km east of Havana, Matanzas is known as both the “city of bridges” and as the Venice of Cuba, with 17 bridges crossing the many rivers that crisscross the city.

Santiago de Cuba also has a large Afro-Cuban population, and rich cultural history. It is the place to see son, the traditional dance from which salsa dancing is derived and guaguanco, dancing accompanied by drums. The city celebrates Carnival in July, with lots of congo music. It was the home of Antonio Maceo, a highly honored Cuban independence soldier who died in 1896.

While racial equality is still an ideal that many people in Cuba work towards, it is a goal that has yet to be reached. Afro-Cubans have contributed greatly to the history and culture of Cuba, from fighting in wars, to contributions in the arts and the political realm.

There are no shortage of Afro-Cuban sites to see in Cuba. Learning about the rich culture of Afro-Cubans is both easy and interesting in Cuba’s largest cities. There is something for everyone, from music and dance to museums and religious tours.

ghana casketFor a country that takes its funerals rites as serious as its football matches, Azonto music and Kente cloth, it is little surprise that “fantasy coffins” have assumed a booming business, augmenting the farewell ceremonies of loved ones. Most people in the country believe in life after death. As a result of this, they try everything possible within and at times, above their means, to grant dead people an elaborate and extravagant funeral. The aim is to ensure that the dead person is sympathetic towards them. But some people living along the country’s coastal line, specifically, the Gas, have added an­other form of touch to funerals in the country. This is in the form of “fantasy coffins” known in the lo­cal dialect as ‘abebuu adekai’. These coffins often symbolize the dead person’s profession and come in a variety of shapes, ranging from animals, insects, fruits, tools etc.


In European cultures, less prominence is attached to funerals. In some part, dead people are cremated or buried in simple pine boxes. But among the Ga folks in Ghana, aside the funfair associated with burials, coffins are a lot fancier and meant to the deceased. Such demand of extravagant coffins was usually the request of dead traditional rulers, clans’ heads, fetish priests and priestesses as well as the very influential in society. The genesis of these coffins is widely attributed to Seth Kane Kwei. But some historical sources debunk this and trace its roots to one Ataa Oko from La, who is said to have begun making these customized coffins and palanquins for departed chiefs in the early 1950s. It was Kane Kwei who subsequently joined the trade and succeeded in popularizing the branded coffins.

The coffins were traditionally envisioned to represent the lives and livelihoods of those tucked in its belly — for example, a design of fish or crab for the fishermen or fishmongers, cocoa pods for the farmer, a hammer for a carpenter, etc. Since the advent of these coffins, the number of artists associated with the trade has been on the increase. One of the artists located at the epicenter of this trade is Daniel Mensah, who is a beneficiary of the tutelage of Paa Joe, the first apprentice of Kane Kwei.

Story of Daniel Mensah

Over the last 14 years, Daniel Mensah has been making these coffins after he spent fifteen years with Paa Joe, one of the earliest Kane Kwei. Born in 1968 in Accra, he has participated both in Ghana and in some Popularly known as ‘Hello’studio “Hello Design Coffin the very site where Kane Kwei. “This is the home of coffins,” proudly of his work and its beyond. Boasting a legion both locals and foreigners, with excitement, how, as a at the brilliant works being and his apprentices. “Any time they were working, and admired Paa Joe and his entrusted me in his custody me this art when I grow up. school but started off with unfortunately passed away earliest apprentices of in Teshie, a suburb of in various art exhibitions some European film projects. Hello’, he opened his own Coffin Works” in Teshie at Kwei first began the art. coffins,” he speaks rather its impact in the country and of customers, including Daniel Mensah recounts child, he used to marvel being churned out by Paa Joe working, I sat on the bench his boys. My father later custody and told him to teach up. So I didn’t really attend this profession. My father not long after but because my mother was aware of his wish, the necessary traditions were performed and I began my work with Paa Joe in 1984.”

Daniel Mensah drops his tools at this stage and opens up about these fantasy coffins which always tell a story. “If you can dream it, Hello Designs will surely craft it for you, he says.” Taking a break from his latest project, of designing a fish for a deceased fish monger, Daniel Mensah takes the Weekend Sun through the past, present and future of the coffin-carving craft. They are generally made from the wood of the local Wawa tree and normally takes between two to six weeks to produce, depending on the complexity of the construction. In his workshop are the very simplest of tools to aid in the making of the coffins without any form of sophisticated gadget or electrical appliance. He explains that these coffins are only produced on order. His first ever project when he got into this trade, was a lobster, a hen and a fish.COFFIN car

Since then, he hasn’t looked back and has produced six trainees and currently training an additional five. Mr Mensah proudly proclaims that he has no regrets since he took over this profession. “I don’t have any regrets getting into this profession because I’m happy doing this. I have not regretted at all because this has taken me to places out of the country. I also live quite comfortably and take good care of my aged mother, siblings, children and other beneficiaries. If you see some of my friends now, they don’t have a job to do. But this job is a great job, not all carpenters can do it. It’s great and I’m so happy with this,” he says brimming with smiles. Midway in the conversation, an ex military man, Dodzi Adzika, pops in to check the progress of his project. He tells us that the reason for the fish shaped coffin is to symbolize the profession of his late mother who was a fish monger. As Mensah, continues with the interview, he recounts how none of his over 300 works have been rejected by any of his clients.

He speaks about his memories before perfecting the art and narrates that a Police Officer shaped coffin gave him sleepless nights as he tried after several failures to craft that art to a final product which later became the cynosure of all eyes. With a supportive wife and four kids, Mr Mensah believes the future has even greater fortune lying in wait for him. This may be responsible for his decision to engage his eldest son who is now learning the trade. Depending on the urgency and nature of art work, one should be sure to part with between GH?1,500 and GH?3,000 before taking any of these coffins home. The booming funeral industry in the country makes coffin-carving a very attractive job for many young men who hitherto might have considered the option of pursuing farming, fishing, or the normal traditional carpentry.

Despite his modest surroundings of a two storey workshop still undergoing construction, some of his works are on display in various museums across the world. He takes us through some of his art works which includes, a canon camera, fire truck, a bic pen and other weird, bizarre but very splendid works. Bringing the interview to an end, he chipped in that he also prefers to bow out from the world in style just as he helps people do. And guess the design on his mind: “A chisel or hammer.”



alain thumb medium200 306In an attempt to improve the visitors’ experience whilst conserving the authenticity of Mission Lodge - one of Seychelles’ most valuable heritage sites - four local leading construction companies  have pledge their support to help bring back this site to its original splendour.


Recently the Minister for Tourism and Culture, Alain St Ange and the chief executive officer (CEO) of the Seychelles Heritage Foundation (SHF), Patrick Nanty laid the foundation stone for the re-development of Mission Lodge. This marked the beginning of a project that will see the creation of a reception area and a visitor’s information centre with a gallery as well as a cafeteria, larger parking space and toilet facilities.


Amongst the distinguished guests present at the ceremony, there was the Principal Secretary for Culture, Benjamine Rose, Chief Executive Officer of the National Arts Council, Jimmy Savy, the District Administrator of Port Glaud, Egbert Aglae and the four construction companies working on the project namely Vijay Construction, Laxmanbhai Construction, Shreeji Construction and Allied Builders.


Re-development Project of Mission LodgeDuring his opening remarks, Mr Nanty thanked the four contractors whose combined contribution of SCR1 million helped make the project a reality. A special thanks was also given to Constance Ephelia Resort who offered to provide information signs and naming each of the endemic plants found within the heritage site. Mr Nanty mentioned that the re-development project of Mission Lodge is aimed at making the site more visitor friendly and safe. In fact, the central pathway will be upgraded for comfort of visitors including the re-installation of a stone surface and the installation of soft lighting for any late evening activities. There will also be the restoration, cordoning and reconstruction on certain parts of the ruins to conserve the site and its history.


Furthermore, Mr Nanty revealed that much improved signage that blends well with the environment will be placed principally in the proximity of the ruins to provide visitors with an enriching insight. According to Mr Nanty, he believes that providing visitors with proper information will in turn help them be more knowledgeable and responsible of the site’s surroundings during their visits.


For his part, Minister St Ange also thanked the four contractors and Constance Ephelia Resort for their key participation stating that “it is a win-win situation for the country when we all work together. The Ministry of Tourism and Culture is committed to keeping the doors open to the private sector because we want you to keep on being not just the face of Seychelles but also the backbone that our country needs” he said.


The Tourism Minister went on to explain that, “the better we understand where we come from, the better we are able to understand where we are and where we are heading tomorrow as a nation”. This was in reference with the five cultures that are part and parcel of Seychelles’ heritage, one being Africa. “By 1872, around 2,500 African slaves in Seychelles were liberated and amongst them were many children. These ruins are a reminder of the settlement and the school which represents a more humane endeavour by others to provide shelter and education to children. It’s now up to us to conserve this site and tell its history,” said Minister St Ange.


The Tourism Minister is hopeful that the re-development project of Mission Lodge and its new facilities will certainly bring added value to the site and attract more visitors as well as boost the site’s application to become an UNESCO World Heritage Site.


About Mission Lodge (Venn’s Town)

The Mission Lodge was originally known as Venn's Town (named after an Aglican Missionary, Henry Venn) and was set up in the late 19th century by a Missionary Society. Following the abolition of slavery, around 2,500 African slaves were set free on Mahé by 1870. Few years later, the colonial government at that time had accepted the proposal made by the Missionary Society to set up a school for the liberated African slave’s children which officially opened in 1876. Today, the ruins of this former school are still clearly visible thus making Mission Lodge one of the most visited tourist attractions in Seychelles. From the shaded and peaceful confines of a gazebo where Queen Elizabeth II once sat for tea, visitors can enjoy some truly spectacular views of Mahé’s green forest landscapes, mountains and azure coastline.


Above photos:

Top- The popular viewing point at Mission Lodge boasting of breath-taking views. Middle left- The signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the Seychelles Heritage Foundation and the four private contractors. Middle Right- The Minister for Tourism and Culture, Alain St Ange addressing his speech to the assembled distinguished guests. Bottom- Minister St Ange and the chief executive officer (CEO) of the Seychelles Heritage Foundation (SHF), Patrick Nanty placing the foundation stone.