Sonntag, 30. Oktober 2011

Wonderful Sunday in Tremé

 On Sunday, the 2nd of October, we attended an amazing service at Saint Augustine – the oldest African-American catholic parish in the United States. So lucky were we to had such an opportunity to celebrate its 170th anniversary with a pure melange of people of different races.

The property on which Saint Augustine Church stands was a part of the original Claude Tremé plantation estate. The parish itself was founded in 1841 by free people of colour, u­­­­­­­­nder the episcopacy of Bishop Antoine Blanc. It is worth mentioning that the parishioners came from various, unique cultures and races, but still, they treat each other with respect and love. Providing the way of worshiping God, we can assume they are really attached to the spiritual community they belonged to. Our group witnessed a totally unaccustomed way of adoring God by singing, dancing and screaming even. The experience we gained will definitely stay in our minds as a whole new practice.
After the ceremony we were invited to have a lunch with St. Augustine’s members. The delicious meal we were served and the ambience during having it were incredible; we have never expected such exclusive treatment! The atmosphere was strengthen by the sun which made this afternoon a real festive one.
Then we headed to Congo Square, an open space within Louis Armstrong Park. Once a week, on Sunday, a group of people gather together to express their feelings in a music performance. They present something great – a mixture of African rhythms, jazz and Mardi Gras Indians music. We stayed there for a while, as we have been charmed by their spirituality and cultural devotion.
And finally, overwhelmed by the entertainment we had so far, our professors took us to witness something even more sensational, namely the Second Line. It is a traditional New Orleans parade where the followers of the band (so-called ‘main line’) just enjoy the music, dance and have a great fun. We were given a chance to admire a diversity of absolutely original people who did not bother whether they look weird or not. 
          Not only did we get to know New Orleans black culture, but we also experienced a pure magic!


Freitag, 21. Oktober 2011

Oyotunji Village

On thursday, September 29th we visited the Oyotunji village in Beaufort. It was founded in the 1970’s and the idea was to create an African village, which follows the lifestyle and culture of Yoruba customs and traditions. Baba was our guide there, he showed us all the altars and temples of the Yoruba gods, which were decorated by sacrifices like alcohol, essences and items related to the assignment s of the gods. Each temple was created in relation to the characteristics of the god.  Baba talked to us about the Yoruba culture and the life in Oyotunji village. But what was most impressive about the guided tour was his way of philosophizing about his life there, his culture and life as such. He was able to make us understand by comparing the Yoruba traditions to the modern globalized world. Such a way of presenting the story made me hang on his lips while we walked through the village. Furthermore he introduced us to the king of the village H.R.M. Oba Adegbolu Adefunmi II. It became interesting to see how the sacred world goes along with the profane world when a woman came yelling towards Baba to make him collect the admission fee from us or when we walked over their own market place where they sold  essential oils, virtu and medicinal herbs. It was extremely interesting and enhancing to visit the village, since I’ve heard so much about the Yoruba culture at University before, it was the first time I practically got in touch with a subject I only had the chance to study theoretically before.
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For those who are interested in getting to know more about the Oyotunji village here is the link:

Getting to know the Mardi Gras Indians

Once you get a look at a guide book on New Orleans you will read about and see Mardi Gras Indians. You might think that beautiful suits and happy dancing people on  the streets is all what it is about. In the Backstreet Cultural Museum in the Tremé neighborhood we got to know what Mardi Gras Indian culture really is about.
The Black Indian tradition is part of the culture of African Americans who venerate Native American ancestors.
Every year a Mardi Gras Indian sews his suit. This work takes his entire free time, money and passion. The material for a suit – pearls, feathers, canvas, shells, … -  can cost him up to $ 20.000 !
The curator of the Backstreet Cultural Museum says: "To raise funding the chief doesn’t get any financial help neither of companies nor friends or relatives. He has to make his sacrifice to his ancestors all on his own."
Only with the actual work of sewing a chief gets some help by a few people who then spend their weekend in his house working on his suit. Of course he has to offer them food and drinks.
On Mardi Gras day then, after a whole year of sweating and working hard for a pretty suit Mardi Gras Indian chiefs together with their tribes will be on the streets.
Until the 70s there had been fighting between different tribes when their competing chiefs met on the streets. Nowadays the chiefs compete with their suits in an aesthetic way. The chief with the most beautiful suit will be the Chief of Chief and maintain this position for his life time.
Over all there are about 30 tribes at the moment in New Orleans who practice the Mardi Gras Indian tradition.
As our guide in the Backstreet Cultural Museum told us the real Mardi Gras Indian tribes parade in their neighborhoods and not in the city center for the tourists.
Apart from Mardi Gras day (Tuesday before Ash Wednesday) there are other days on which the Mardi Gras Indians parade on the streets, sing and dance:  St Joseph’s Day, and the Super Sundays.

To get more information on the backstreet Cultural Museum click here

Post-Katrina Literature

On Wednesday, October 5, we visited the University of New Orleans and heard three lectures on Hurricane Katrina related issues. Professor David Rutledge held a lecture about post-Katrina literature. Firstly, he emphasized that New Orleans is not just a musical city but has also a rich literary culture. As examples he mentioned Kate Chopin's "The Awakening" and Tenessee William's "Street Car Named Desire". Although those two authors are not originally from New Orleans they were inspired by New Orleans and used it as setting for their works. In that context Rutledge mentioned that many people from outside the city move into the city and are inspired by its rich and unique culture.

The post-Katrina literary responses were incredible. Rutledge named a few of the literary genres, such as children's books, novel, non-fiction books, etc. One other way of responding to Katrina and communicating the experience was writing blogs. Some of those blogs were even published in book form.

- Ewa

“Tradition is a temple”: Chuck Perkins at the New Orleans Healing Center

On October 2,  we went to the New Orleans Healing Center to meet the local poet Chuck Perkins who introduced us to some cultural traditions of the city and the state. Initially, Chuck read some of his poetry, talking about topics such as the recent economic crisis and the cultural heritage of New Orleans. The title of this post also comes from one of these poems.

After this spoken performance, Chuck introduced as to a number of colleagues and friends with whom he performed music and talked about some of the cultural traditions of the New Orleans area. For instance, we learned - more or less successfully - some of the basic rhythms of local music and also

Mittwoch, 19. Oktober 2011

Learning the spirit of NOLA. ‘Roots of Jazz’ – 04 Oct. 2011

The individual character of New Orleans is mainly related to the everlasting presence of wonderful music. Blues, jazz, ragtime, zydeco are the inseparable elements of our stay in Louisiana. Today, at 3 p.m., we have had another great opportunity to take part in the music event which took place in the New Orleans Jazz National Historical Park. The magical atmosphere of the French Quarter, surrounded by wonderful artists, from the very beginning of our stay has been extremely encouraging in exploring the NOLA music culture. Park Rangers – the museum’s employees – were performing that day. One of the three musicians on stage was already known by our group Bruce “Sunpie” Barnes, one of the most famous NOLA artists.   
The musicians gave us a brief historical background which helped us to understand the differences between various music styles which developed in the Big Easy. Although we have already known the origins of the jazz and blues music, the lecture enriched us with many details. We learnt the disparities in tempo, rhythm, instruments, level of musicians’ commitment etc. between those previously mentioned styles. Each genre discussed by the artists had also its reflection in a selection of great songs. Probably for many of us it was an unique chance to listen to Zydeco music which was brilliantly performed by Sunpie.
Encouraging people to cooperate with the trio as well as artists’ interaction with the audience made the concert extremely attractive and certainly unforgettable.

Ania & Olga

The Holy City got its spirit. Charleston walking tour

‘I'm going back to dignity and grace. I'm going back to Charleston, where I belong.’
-- Rhett Butler in 1939 movie "Gone with the Wind" 

For those who has never visited Charleston – a walking tour like the one we had on September 26th is a must!
We met up at 4.30 p.m. in front of ‘The Shops of Historic Charleston Foundation’, where our journey around that amazing city started. Despite the fact that our tour was mainly focused on the history of the African Americans in this area, we also had a chance to visit, admire and learn about the attractions of Charleston. Our study_tour_team was divided into two groups, nearly in half.
We walked down to Charleston Harbor where we stopped for a while to look at Fort Sumter and listen about the role it played during the Civil War. It is always a great experience to be able to see in the flesh something that you’ve already known from the U.S. history class. Other significant places to visit chosen by our tour guide were: Charleston City Hall; Charleston County Courthouse – one of the most important buildings in the entire state; located on the King Street Charleston Library Society; Dock Street Theatre; Exchange and Provost Building which was one of the most essential buildings back in colonial Charleston and a place where many significant events of the American Revolution and early Federal period occurred; The Farmers and Exchange Bank – the only Moorish Revival building in the city; The Fireproof Building that is now believed to be the oldest building of fireproof construction in the United States; the German Friendly Society (near the City Hall); Hibernian Hall – the last building during our tour described by our guide – it meant to be a meeting place for the Hibernian Society; Marion Square; The Market Hall and Sheds – those ones are the only surviving market buildings in Charleston, and one of a small number of market complexes still extant in the United States; The Old Jail; The Old Slave Mart located on one of Charleston's few remaining cobblestone streets; the only known remaining building used as a slave auction gallery in South Carolina; The South Carolina National Bank of Charleston – one of the most important buildings on Broad Street, South Carolina's oldest commercial street; liqueur shop with a pirate flag and a couple more.
Walking around Charleston gave us the unique opportunity to observe the beauty of this city. Our tour guide referred to the history of German communities in Charleston very often and was able to answer any question posed by members of our group, constantly enriching his stories with many interesting anecdotes. Professional background and attitude of our tour leaders made our walk extremely valuable. We understood the power of history in this city. Charleston is a city surrounded by and bursting with history that is being explored by locals and visitors every day. Although the tour lasted about 3hours, all of us certainly enjoyed our time!

Ania & Olga