|As an undergraduate French major, I went to France during my junior year for a semester abroad. Among the first people I met were young Africans studying at the University of Paris. My interest in African languages and lifeways began at that time; the following year I spent part of the summer in Côte d'Ivoire studying an endangered language, Tagbana, and have been returning to Africa almost yearly every since.
My doctoral research at Indiana University focused on how language communicates social status among Mande groups in West Africa where society is organized in castes as well as patrilineages, clans, and matrifocal family groups. My book, Griots at War: Conflict, Conciliation, and Caste in Mande (Indiana University Press, 2000) discusses the intricacies of the Mande caste system where the language of griots -- their speech -- differentiates them from members of the noble or freeborn caste.
I've developed an interest in visual anthropology as well, and during a Fulbright year in Kenya ('97-'98) began acquiring footage for a series of ethnographic films on gender and culture change among the Maasai. The first two films in the series,Womanhood and Circumcision: Three Maasai Women Have Their Say, and Making Maasai Men: Growing Courage Toward Circumcision are being distributed by Berkeley Media. Two more films are in post-production in the Department of Anthropology's Visual Anthropology Center. Students who enroll in my course on visual anthropology (ANT 323) have worked on these films with me, and receive credits in the film as well as in the class!
Another interest I've cultivated at CSU is in the textile art of bogolanfini (mudcloth) from Mali. In 1994, CSU sponsored a public program and exhibit of the work of Nakunte Diarra, master bogolanfini artist, whom I've know since 1986. Nakunte came to Cleveland and stayed in my home for 5 weeks, during which time she gave demonstrations of her art here at CSU as well as at the African-American Museum, Tri-C, and the Cleveland Museum of Art. Since 1999, her work has been on permanent display at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History's African Voices exhibit and is also in the collections of the Indiana University Art Museum, the Fashion Institute of Technology, the Newark Museum, and others. The government of Mali sent her to represent the art form at the 2003 Smithsonian Folklife Festival - a venue attended by millions of people from around the worldl. One of our majors edited a film about Nakunte and her art for her ANT 323 class project; I built on her project to edit a limited-edition DVD, Through the Eyes of a Master: Nakunte Diarra's Bogolanfini, which was offered for sale at the festival with all profits going directly to Nakunte Diarra.
Nearly ever year, I work in collaboration with various programs, departments, and offices around campus to bring Africans to the CSU campus for public programs on cultural topics. In 2002 and again in 2006, we brought El Haji Papa Susso, a famous Gambian griot, to CSU with his musical troupe where he gave a series of lecture/performances about griots and their music. Two of our majors interviewed Susso and his colleagues for a video documentary while several others organized a performance in the dormitory and sessions with students. In the fall of 2002, 2003, and 2004, a group of Maasai educators from the Simba Maasai Outreach Organization (SIMOO) visited CSU at our request and gave a series of lectures about their culture that included performances of song and dance.In Spring of 2006, one of the members of SIMOO, Alice Lasoi, came to Cleveland and lectured not only here at CSU, but also at Case, John Carroll, Lorain County Community College, and Lakeland Community College. Many of our students have the opportunity to interact directly with our African guests both in and out of class.