Sunday, July 19, 2009

African Farm Nears Completion

Dr. Nwachukwu Anakwenze, center, of Nigeria who practices medicine in Los Angeles says he enjoys the farm exhibits at the Frontier Culture Museum because it shows the commonalities in humanity through farming around the world. (Pat Jarrett/The News Leader)

Udodirim Mbanaso, 3, of Maryland stares at a spoonful of African food during the ceremony at the Frontier Culture Museum on Friday. As work continued on the West African Farm on Friday, the Frontier Culture Museum hosted a closing ceremony with traditional African food and guests from around the world. (Pat Jarrett/The News Leader)

STAUNTON — "Anyone that has stood in the mud, please stand up to be recognized," Jak Njoku, asked. Most of the nearly 100 people in the outdoor pavilion at the Frontier Culture Museum stood.

This is the cleanest I have looked in four years," said Njoku, as the audience laughed.

Njoku, a consultant on the longtime project of constructing the first authentic Igbo village in the country later said he couldn't find the words to describe how he was feeling.

"Oh, wow. Just, oh wow," he said, as he sat at the symbolic closing ceremony of the project conducted Friday afternoon. Although the project is not completed, dozens of volunteers, officials and museum board members gathered to celebrate the project, including Chudi Okafar, Consul General of the Consulate of Nigeria. "There is nothing I can say that will come close. Everything will be an approximation. Profoundly, profoundly satisfied. Abundantly satisfied. And that's an approximation."

The dozen or so teens, mostly football players from Robert E. Lee and Fort Defiance high schools, were among those who attended the ceremony. They were summer employees of the Frontier Culture Museum.

They spent the summer helping to construct an Igbo village replicating the Western African culture, standing barefoot in a puddles of mud in the blazing heat, stomping to create the perfect consistency. They made hundreds of clay loaves to be used to build a traditional man's home, called an obi, and houses for his two wives.

"We did not approach them to do this," said Kanayo K. Odeluga, national coordinator for Igbo volunteers. "The museum conceived this because they valued the contribution we made to frontier culture.

An Education
Odeluga traveled from Chicago with his wife and two children a week ago to work on the project. Odeluga puddled the mud, his wife single-handedly rubbed all the interior walls to smooth them and his children carried bricks.

"Our ancestors didn't just do menial jobs," Odeluga said, of the exhibit's significance. "That gratifies us. It makes us feel at home even after our migration from Africa. We are very humbled by this."

Elizabeth Bunin, a fifth grade language teacher in Charlottesville, said she attended a weeklong course on the Igbo at the museum because it lined up with her curriculum at school.

"You kind of get the basics. The bare bones, because it is not in the text books" said Bunin, who was wearing a long, bright yellow and black traditional Igbo dress. "You have to go do the research yourself. We've been seeing it, eating it, watching it. It's been totally experiential. Now, I can take my students to the next level."

A.J. Scott and Bryce Goodwin, both 17, who have been working on the project all summer, doing heavy, manual labor for minimum wage said they were relieved they would be done working on the project in three weeks.

"It feels great," A.J. said. "It relieves some stress."

"Relieved," Bryce agreed, shaking his head. "I'm ready to go back to school."

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