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Nigerian village comes to life: Naija Fest blends African, U.S. culture

Posted by By Louis Llovio on 2005/08/11 | Views: 3413 |

Nigerian village comes to life: Naija Fest blends African, U.S. culture

Hannah More Park in Reisterstown had the feel of a small African village as a celebration of Nigerian music, food and culture took over the park Aug. 6 at Naija Fest 2005.

Hannah More Park in Reisterstown had the feel of a small African village as a celebration of Nigerian music, food and culture took over the park Aug. 6 at Naija Fest 2005.

About 1,000 people attended the third annual event.

"Naija Fest allows Nigerians in the area to come together to celebrate their cultures," said Toun Olumide, secretary of the Nigerian Youth Association of Maryland, which sponsored the festival. And, she added, it's a way to educate the public about Nigeria, what it's like and issues affecting it.

Festival-goers hid from the blazing afternoon sun under picnic shelters, while bands playing African beats sang about life in America. A troupe of dancers mixed generations-old tribal dances with modern hip-hop moves.

Around the park, vendors under tents sold jewelry, paintings and incense, while the Baltimore County Department of Health offered information on a range of medical issues. A focus was sexually transmitted diseases, and officials gave away condoms.

At Naija Fest, Funmi Binuyo, a 20-year-old member of the youth association, and other NYA volunteers worked the information booths, collecting donations and selling raffle tickets. The money raised has been earmarked for HIV-prevention programs in Nigeria and other African nations.

But the most popular booths at the festival were the food stands.

Olayinka Oni-Orisan, 16, served jollof, a traditional dish of white rice and tomato stew, to a long line of customers.

"It's a typical dish," she said. "Kids come home and heat up a bowl of jollof and some plantains as an after-school snack."

Oni-Orisan, whose mother owns the restaurant Olangela's in Baltimore, also served curried goat meat, a traditional West Indian food.

Next to Oni-Orisan's stand, an even-longer line waited for suya.

"Suya is very common in Nigeria," said Kay Akinmade, who flew in from Houston to help her sister serve the beef dish at the festival. In Nigeria, "you can find it anywhere - at roadside stands or fine restaurants."

Suya, she said, is like American fast food for Nigerians. The beef-on-a-stick is seasoned with a peanut-based powder and served with onions.

"Not quite like home," one man told her as he walked away with three orders of suya.

"But it's pretty darn close," Akinmade replied.

Organizers hoped Akinmade was right, and that for Nigerians living in America Reisterstown, at least for a day, would feel a little bit like home.

Baltimore, according to the 2000 Census, has the 14th-largest African-born population - 13,007 - in the country. Nigerians make up 13.8 percent of Africans living in America.

Naija Fest, according to NYA literature, is meant as an "avenue for our voices to be heard as youths with a positive mission."

Binuyo said the event is a not only a good way to "expose others to our culture," but it is a networking event for people who have emigrated from Nigeria or are second-generation children of Nigerians.

"We provide a support system for (foreign-born) students and immigrants," said the 2005 Goucher College graduate, of the organization. "And we give the children of immigrants a way to stay in touch with their culture."

Binuyo, whose father is Nigerian and mother black American, said NYA was created in 2000 as a way for members, ages 14 to 30, to "network in order to achieve personal success and contribute to the success of their homeland Nigeria."

In the past, NYA also has sponsored book drives for schools in rural Nigeria, hosted summer camps for children and raised money wrapping gifts during the holidays.

The organization also hosts field trips and sponsors social events.

Like NYA members who straddle two cultures, Nigerian and American cultures blended together at the Naija Fest.

"The festival offers the best of both worlds," said the association's Olumide.

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