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Photo: The Providence Journal / David DelPoio
Refugee campers line up for lunch beneath a portrait of George Washington at Camp RYSE in Providence. The camp is specifically targeted to cater to refugee children.

I work with refugees and other immigrants as a volunteer in Providence, and I thought I knew about most of the refugee initiatives there. Then along came a Providence Journal article about a summer camp for refugee kids that reminded me I am still learning.

Kevin G Andrade reports, “If you sit down with Jetu Neema in the Highland Charter School cafeteria this summer, you are likely to get a quick and enthusiastic Swahili lesson.

” ‘Jena laka nani? [What is your name?]’ she asked the Journal reporter at Camp RYSE Tuesday afternoon, before teaching him how to respond. ‘Jena langu nina etwa … [My name is…]’

“Though energetic and friendly, as children tend to be, those at RYSE — an acronym for Refugee Youth Solidarity through Education — all have one thing in common. They are refugees from war, disaster or dictatorship all over the world. …

“Tanzania — which has had a relatively stable government compared with those of its neighbors such as Mozambique, Burundi, Uganda, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo — has hosted many refugees over the years according to Bienfait Jaigado, a 14-year-old junior camp counselor whose family came to the U.S. after escaping unrest in Burundi about 5 years ago.

” ‘I was little, I did not know why we were coming,’ Jaigado said, a common story among campers who knew only that they and their parents had to leave their homes. … ‘I was getting bullied a lot in school [when I immigrated] because of my skin color and … basically because I was new and did not know the language.’ …

“Jaigado said that when he came to the camp as a camper, it was a cathartic experience that made him want to give other refugee children the same opportunity.

‘All I know from my first days in camp is that I felt welcome,’ he said. ‘In camp, people were respectful of my race and my traditions.’ …

“Beginning in 2011 as the Brown Refugee Youth Tutoring Initiative, the RYSE program’s mission is two-fold, to provide a safe space for refugee children and to catch them up on education they may have missed out on due to the chaos of life. …

“The camp includes classes in the mornings that focus on improving literacy and mathematics skills to prepare the students for entering the next grade level. Yet the courses also make sure to incorporate folklore and history from the dozens of languages, cultures, and nations represented there. …

“RYSE also concentrated on hiring support staff from the communities where the children live to offer additional support to the campers and their families.

” ‘We work with translators from the community,’ said Donia Torabian, the camp’s director of family and community outreach. ‘We try to hire drivers from the community … It is exhausting, but it is work that fills your soul.’ ”

More here.

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Photo: J. J. Williams/Public domain
Hawaiian hula dancers photographed in J. J. Williams’s photo studio, circa 1885. The art form was suppressed for many years but is now celebrated around the world.

I was thinking recently that I’d love to learn some new dance forms. I took lots of ballet as a kid, and I keep reading that dancing is good for your health when you’re older. Essentrics, an exercise program I love, has taught me to focus on moves that are beneficial, not contorted. So what kind of dance would be good? Someone I know teaches salsa. Should I try that?

The following article got me wondering if hula might be good for me.

Ligaya Malones writes at Atlas Obscura about Hawaiʻi’s Merrie Monarch hula festival, “arguably the most prestigious event of its kind.

“Every spring, thousands of hula fans descend upon the Hawaiian town of Hilo and line the bleacher seats at Edith Kanaka’ole stadium. Thousands more across the islands — those unable to make it to Hilo themselves — watch live broadcasts on their televisions or computer screens. All these people are showing up and tuning in for the beloved Merrie Monarch Festival, sometimes referred to as ‘the Olympics of hula.’ …

“The three-day competition is part of several week-long events held throughout Hilo, home of Merrie Monarch since 1963. … Much credit is given to King Kalākaua, the last of Hawaiʻi’s kings, for reclaiming hula’s place in Hawaiian society. He was elected to the throne in the 1870s by the Hawaiian legislature, and often hosted hula-filled celebrations, including at his coronation. Merrie Monarch was Kalākaua’s endearing nickname and it is his contribution to hula that the competition honors every year.

“ ‘It’s electrifying,’ says Robert Ke’ano Ka’upu IV, who grew up in Hilo. Ka’upu has participated in the invitation-only competition for the last 30 years as a spectator, dancer, chanter, costumer, and now as kumu hula. … ‘I don’t get excited like this for any other competition,’ he says.

“During the festival, every inch of a performance is scrutinized. Dancers are evaluated and earn points for the way they enter and exit the stage, their facial expressions, posture, costume, lei, and adornment, says Ka’upu. However, the bulk of scoring is placed on the kumu’s interpretation of a song, known as a mele, and how well dancers interpret their kumu’s vision of the performance.

“To assist in deliberations, every competing group provides judges with a fact sheet that corresponds to each performance. These fact sheets, which are due before the competition, explain everything from a mele’s background to the meaning of the lei that dancers wear ‘so [the judges] get a better understanding of what each halau is doing,’ says Ka’upu. He adds that his halau will submit more than 70 pages of fact sheets to the judging panel for the competition this year. Judges bestow high scores to those who best personify technical excellence, and ultimately the expression of Hawaiian identity through chant and dance. …

“Hawaiian culture existed without the written word until western contact, so Hawaiians passed down knowledge orally and through dance. Through chant and movement, hula narrates place; honors goddesses and gods, such as Pele, goddess of fire; celebrates nature’s surroundings, from birds to waterfalls; and records genealogy and human emotion. ‘Kaulilua,’ for example, is one of Merrie Monarch’s most performed ancient hulas. The mele likens a woman to the island of Kauaʻi’s verdant Mount Waiʻaleʻale. …

“As Western influence grew and Hawaiʻi’s fate approached annexation and eventual U.S. statehood, so did the need for local manpower to fuel its new sugar economy. In 1858, missionaries with a keen interest in sugar’s profits pursued legislation to suppress hula even further, citing lethargy in sugar cane fields, promiscuity, and attrition from Sunday service. Records show a code of conduct published in 1859 required a license for ticketed, public hula performances. Yet hula persisted under the mesh of legal restrictions and moral shaming. Hawaiians still danced, particularly in more rural areas where government oversight trickled, missionary presence was scarce, and police all the more so. ‘Hula was never lost,'” says Dr. Taupouri Tangarō, director of Hawaiian culture and protocols at University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo.

For more on the competition and for more-contemporary hula photos, check out Atlas Obscura.

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Photos: Niijang Xyaalas Productions
Actor Tyler York performing in
SGaawaay K’uuna. Actors had to learn a vanishing language in order to understand their lines in this film about one of Canada’s First Nations.

We’ve had a number of posts about vanishing languages, languages spoken by few people because younger generations are choosing to (or be forced to) speak a language used more widely. Nowadays it’s usually English that leads to not only the loss of a native language but the way of life it represents. As Brian Friel said in his play Translations, about the Irish language and culture, “it can happen that a civilization can be imprisoned in a linguistic contour which no longer matches the landscape of fact.”

Dalya Alberge wrote in March at the Guardian about a new film shot in a disappearing language.

“Plenty of films are somewhat incomprehensible, but a forthcoming movie is in a language that only about 20 people in the world can speak fluently. With subtitles, audiences will be able to understand a feature film titled SGaawaay K’uuna, translated as Edge of the Knife. …

“It is in two dialects of the highly endangered Haida language, the ancestral tongue of the Haida people of British Columbia. It is unrelated to any other language, and actors had to learn it to understand their lines.

“The film is playing an important role in preserving the language, its director Gwaai Edenshaw said. He told the Guardian:

‘I know that, if our language is this far gone, statistically it’s supposed to be over. But that’s not something that we’re willing to accept.’

“The Haida are an Indigenous First Nations community whose traditional territory is Haida Gwaii (formerly Queen Charlotte Islands), an archipelago of forested islands off the west coast of Canada.

“Edenshaw said most of the fluent Haida speakers were in his Haida Gwaii homeland. … He added that the community generally lives off the sea and makes dugout canoes and houses from local red cedars. Noting that their numbers were ravaged by smallpox and other diseases in the 19th century, he said a former population of tens of thousands has dwindled to a few thousand today. …

“More than 70 local people worked on the production, with Haida speakers taking incidental roles, weavers creating the costumes and other craftspeople making props. … It is part of a wider push to preserve the Haida language, including a new dictionary and recordings of local voices. …

“2019 is Unesco’s Year of Indigenous Languages, ‘to preserve, support and promote’ them worldwide. Mark Turin, associate professor of anthropology at the University of British Columbia and a specialist in endangered languages, told the Guardian that about half of up to 7,100 languages worldwide were ‘severely endangered’ and would likely cease to be used as everyday vernaculars by the end of this century unless action is taken. …

“He pointed to recent research that shows a correlation between indigenous language sustainability and decreased youth suicide within indigenous communities: ‘Speaking your indigenous language [has] public health implications.

” ‘This film – which I’ve watched and loved – has done something that I don’t think I’ve ever seen before, using a feature movie as a process of language revitalisation.’

More here.

Actors in a film based on a legend of the Haida people of British Columbia had to learn the Haida language to understand their lines. The movie has subtitles.

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Photos: Viaggio nei Fori
Special multimedia light shows will be enriching Roman history at the forums of Caesar and Augustus until November 11 this year.

Recently, I was talking to the amazing Margaret, who was diagnosed with my sister’s horrible cancer more than eight years ago and has never had a recurrence. She had just returned from volunteering with a Jesuit refugee organization in Rome and showing her nephew the sights of the city. She described how they were given access to a special Mass in the crypt below St. Peter’s Basilica, where recent archaeological testing suggests that Peter’s bones really were buried.

I thought of Margaret and her nephew as I read this article about a initiative to bring history alive for Rome’s many visitors.

Livia Hengel has a report at Forbes. “Rome is a city filled with cultural heritage. Every building, statue and column has a story to tell, but it takes a vast amount of knowledge to piece together the city’s nearly 2,800-year-old history. … Where do you even begin? …

“From video projections cast upon ancient walls and multimedia light shows to virtual reconstructions revealed through 3D visors, technology is being used to help tell the story of Rome in a more concrete and compelling way.

“A large part of this trend can be attributed to the pioneering work of Paco Lanciano, a Rome-born physicist with a passion for cultural communication and a keen understanding of the learning process. Namely: if you make education fun, it sticks. ‘You need to strike a balance between creating something spectacular to hold an audience’s attention while also helping them learn in the process,’ Mr. Lanciano tells me. …

“Together with Piero Angela, a leading Italian television host and science journalist, Mr. Lanciano designed an immersive multimedia visit of ‘Le Domus Romane’ within Palazzo Valentini over a decade ago – the first time technology was used to enhance an archeological site in the capital. During the virtual tour, visitors can see baths, furnishings and decorations brought to life through digital projections that enhance the archeological site without compromising it. …

“After the success of Palazzo Valentini, Mr. Lanciano and Mr. Angela worked together again to create Viaggio nei Fori, two popular shows that cast the stories of Emperor Augustus and Julius Caesar onto the ancient forums each evening during the summer months. These screenings have become a mainstay of Rome’s summer entertainment and are on view this year from April 21 to November 11 2019.

“Now Mr. Lanciano has turned his attention to an even more ambitious project with Welcome to Rome, a 30-minute introduction to the city, through a stirring film and 3-dimensional models of some of the city’s major landmarks. The show begins thousands of years ago when Rome is home to a handful of tribes scattered across its seven hills and takes the viewer on a journey through the Roman Republic, the Roman Empire, the Middle Ages, the Renaissance and then finally the present day. ‘It was quite a challenge to synthesize the story of Rome, but the feedback has been very positive,’ ” says Lanciano.

More at Forbes, here.

This summer’s light shows in Rome are available in eight languages: Italian, English, French, Spanish, German, Russian, Chinese, and Japanese. (Gives you an idea of where the city expects most visitors to come from.)

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Photo: Annie Tritt for the New York Times
Muriel Miguel, a founder of the feminist Native American collective Spiderwoman Theater, is considered a grandmother of the Indigenous theater movement in the United States and Canada.

I’ve been interested to read how indigenous peoples around the world are reaching out to one another and starting to benefit from the strength of numbers. One result has been the emergence of international festivals staking out a place for native people in the arts world. I’m late with this story, but I wanted you to know about one such festival. It took place in January in New York City.

Siobhan Burke at the New York Times noted in particular that a grandmother of the Indigenous theater movement in the United States and Canada, Brooklyn-born playwright Muriel Miguel, was scheduled to be “among the 30 or so artists participating in this year’s First Nations Dialogues New York/Lenapehoking. (Lenapehoking is the homeland of the Lenape, the original inhabitants of the area encompassing New York City.) Taking place at multiple downtown theaters, the Dialogues bring together Indigenous performing artists from Australia, Canada and the United States for a week of performances, discussions and other gatherings, beginning Jan. 5. …

“In drawing attention to the breadth of contemporary Indigenous performance — with works spanning dance, theater, performance art and genres in between — the Dialogues are something rare for New York, if not unprecedented. Describing what to expect is not easy and not intended to be. In deciding what to program, the chief organizers — [Merindah Donnelly, an organizer of the series and the executive producer of BlakDance in Australia], the choreographer Emily Johnson, and Vallejo Gantner, the former director of Performance Space — set out to challenge a notion they often come across, that Indigenous performance fits any single description. …

“Ms. Donnelly said. ‘The people making it are Indigenous, but Indigenous is not a genre.’ …

The offerings here — many of which deal with themes of trauma, grief and healing — include Ms. Miguel’s Pulling Threads Fabric Workshop, in which storytelling and quilting serve as tools for mending old wounds. …

“While the tone may be somber at times, there is also much to celebrate. SJ Norman, an Australian artist of Wiradjuri and Wonnaruah heritage, said in an email that the opportunity to gather in New York ‘feels like an honoring of the continued existence of our peoples in the big city, as well as the dynamism and globalism of our peoples, which is absolutely vast.’ …

“A Native Alaskan artist of Yupik ancestry, Ms. Johnson has been working tirelessly to counter what she calls ‘the perceived invisibility’ of Indigenous performing artists, particularly in the United States. …

“One approach to bringing the United States up to speed is an ambitious pilot program, the Global First Nations Performance Network, which will be in development during this year’s Dialogues. … The network also requires, of each presenter, a commitment to undergoing what Mr. Gantner calls ‘a kind of decolonization process.’ …

“Ms. Johnson sees this year’s Dialogues as a microcosm of what the network may eventually accomplish, including opening up international exchange. For the Australian choreographer Mariaa Randall, whose ‘Footwork/Technique,’ [explores] the footwork of Aboriginal dances, a highlight of the Dialogues is the chance to simply talk and listen with peers from around the world.

“ ‘In our countries we can become kind of siloed,’ she said. ‘I want to be able to sit with and see and hear from other First Nations females: what their struggles are, their achievements, and how they continue to keep their culture and their practice together, to keep moving forward, because sometimes it is really hard.’ ”

More at the New York Times, here.

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Photo: Elliott Simpson
“Two Piece Reclining Figure No.1,” by Henry Moore, Glenkiln Sculpture Park in southwest Scotland. Scotland’s government has proposed a policy that, among other things, would give ordinary Scots a greater say in shaping the cultural life of their communities.

What I remember about a trip to Scotland decades ago is Loch Ness, the glowing quality of sunlight in Inverness, how Edinburgh’s castle looms over the city, sheep on the hills, sheep crossing narrow highland roads.

But there is more to Scotland, and now the government is working to give communities a greater say in how the country’s culture is presented to the world.

Christy Romer writes at Arts Professional, “Ensuring culture is fundamental to Scotland’s social and economic prosperity is a core aim of the country’s first culture strategy in over ten years. …

“The draft document outlines plans for a new Government cultural adviser and new funding models for the sector. In addition, it aims to give people a ‘greater say’ in shaping the cultural life of their communities through participatory models of decision-making and community ownership.

“ [The draft strategy says Scotland] ‘places culture as of equal importance alongside other areas such as the economy, education, environment, health and tackling inequality, and values culture for the unique perspectives it can bring.’ …

“One of the major initiatives announced is a new cultural leadership post within Scottish Government, which would be supported by strategic thinkers from the culture sector and beyond.

“This figure would be responsible for joining up thinking across Government and with major stakeholders. They would aim to respond to big societal issues and make culture central to progress in areas such as health, the economy and education.

“Other initiatives include developing a national partnership for culture, which would see the sector work with academics to develop new approaches to measuring and articulating the value of culture.

“Partnership working with businesses, schools and care homes is also seen as key to creating opportunities for more people to take part in culture. The document …  suggests using Scottish Government powers to generate a collective responsibility to support culture in the long term.’ This could involve the National Investment Bank or devolved tax and legislative powers.”

Oh, dear. Already I see trouble ahead. The intentions are good, but that wonky document suggests to me that artists were not involved in the writing and may not be helping much to carry out the policy. Hmmm. I’m wondering if government’s role in a country’s culture should be limited to funding it.

For example, consider what Claire Selvin reported in October at ArtNews about New York City: “With largest-ever allotment for department of cultural affairs, New York City Grants $43.9 million to arts programs.” That’s putting your money where your mouth is. I realize some of the funds may get lost in the bureaucracies of the various recipient arts organizations, but I think I’d rather have them working on the ultimate allocations than a government entity.

More on Scotland at Arts Professional, here.

One of Scotland’s historical highlights is the Antonine Wall, built by the Romans across what is now the Central Belt of Scotland. These ruins mark the northernmost frontier barrier of the Roman Empire.

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Photo: PjrTravel/Alamy
The act of building puppets has long been a form of protest for the Czech people.

Never underestimate the power of the arts to affect the course of nations. In this story, puppets kept the Czech language alive during a period of repression by German speakers.

Jacklyn Janeksela writes at the BBC, “It was thanks to the humble puppet that the Czech nation – and its language – was inadvertently saved.

“In the 17th Century, when the kingdom of Bohemia was under Habsburg rule, the Czech language almost disappeared. …

“When the Protestant court left Prague in the early 1600s, the city fell into decline for almost two centuries. The new ruler, Ferdinand II, did not tolerate non-Catholics, viewing Protestants as a threat to his faith. Czech locals, mostly peasants and working class people, were forced to speak the German language of their invaders. Soon after, intellectuals, who had initially resisted the German language, followed suit. Even Czech actors began to perform in German as an official mandate. Czech became a mere dialect, and would have slipped into oblivion had it not been for some unassuming pieces of wood.

“The act of building puppets has long been a form of protest for the Czech people. Seventeenth-Century wood-carvers, who were more versed in sculpting Baroque seats for churches than human facsimiles, started making puppets for the actors of Bohemia soon after Ferdinand II came to power, as puppets were the only remaining entities that had the right to speak Czech in public places. While the rest of the country and its people adhered to the newly imposed German language, wandering actors and puppet-masters spoke through the puppets in their native Slavic tongue.

“It might seem unlikely that a few hundred puppets and puppet-masters could safeguard a language, especially through a loophole, but the people’s last remaining legacy to their past was tied to the puppet’s strings.

“It’s easy to see why these marionettes have found a home in Czech hearts, and why the magic of puppets continues to permeate the city. …

“In the streets, puppeteers make magic happen. I watched a puppet show in a charming cobblestoned square, where the puppet-master wore the velvety cap of a pageboy, pierced by a single plume that swayed along with the puppet’s movements. He used his puppets to beckon bystanders. Melodic medieval music accompanied the dance of a peasant male and young princess, a Czech love story with a plot twist that favours the underdog, the peasant who wins the heart of a far-fetched royal love.” Read more at the BBC, here.

With minority languages threatened around the world today, it’s worth remembering that a culture and way of life can be preserved through arts like puppet-making. See also my blog post on the historically important role of shadow puppets in Armenia, here.

Photo: Carol J Saunders/Alamy
Puppets have a special place in the hearts of the Czech people. For one thing, they saved the language in the early 1600s when German-speaking rulers prevented everyone but puppets from speaking Czech in public.

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