While the morning dawns grey and dull, Cultural Day at St Jude’s Girls’ Secondary School is a celebration of colour and energy.
Today is a day for students to celebrate and learn about Tanzanian cultures. With the help of teacher mentors, they’ve prepared performances, artworks and traditional dishes around the theme ‘Development Though Culture’.
“Culture has significance. It is an instrument for education. So we want to instil in our students the ability to love and embrace their culture,” explains Mr Chokora, an English and geography teacher. Observing the excited students this morning, it’s clear that St Jude’s is succeeding in this quest.
The show begins with a bang: first up are the ngoma groups (in Kiswahili, ngoma refers to traditional dancing with drums). The students are dressed in bright costumes, their hair styled in intricate braids and buns. Oprah, from Form 2, is dancing with the Africana ngoma group today. She is from the Bondei tribe who are historically based in the Tanga area, on Tanzania’s Northeast coast. “I really enjoy performing,” she says. “It’s important to show our culture and share it with everyone.”
Next come the choirs, who share songs in Kiswahili. Then, for a humorous interlude, the audience are treated to a series of short dramatic acts, written and performed by the students.
The final section of the program is dedicated to a fashion show. Student designers have dreamed up and created inventive outfits. Their friends model the designs, showing off the bold creations.
One talented designer is Sabha, in Form 4. Her collection, called African Diva, demonstrates ingenious use of recycled materials. She explains, “When you look at the environment, you can see inspiration everywhere.”
Some people look at fashion as a frivolous pursuit, but not Sabha, who hopes to pursue a career in design. “A key element of culture is dress. Here in Tanzania we have many tribes and each has their own way of dressing.” Sabha is a member of the famous Maasai tribe and says Cultural Day is one of her favourite days of the year. “It’s a chance for people to show their creativity and their talents,” she beams.
Perhaps the most keenly anticipated performance of the Cultural Day is the teachers’ dramatic performance. Almost all teachers at the school have been involved in writing, rehearsing and performing a funny act, which demonstrates the importance of appreciating culture.
“I take part in Cultural Day to model cultural appreciation to the students. Culture is part and parcel of human life, so I want to show them that participating in culture is not something bad or embarrassing. As staff, we want students to develop an interest in embracing their cultures,” enthuses Mr Chokora, a teacher who is part of today’s performance.
Another performing teacher is Miss Doreen, who teaches Kiswahili. “I really like to perform, because we want to show our students that we’re capable of doing anything. Even though we are very busy we are still capable. We still have time for culture,” she explains.
Miss Doreen and Mr Chokora are pleased to see that their efforts have helped the students take an interest in culture. “They have been asking what we’re doing for weeks, but we wanted to surprise them,” says Mr Chokora.
After a morning of performances, everyone has worked up an appetite. Luckily, students have prepared an array of dishes from all over Tanzania for their guests to enjoy. Veronica and Maria, both in Form 4, are two of the students responsible for today’s feast.
“It's fun to watch the performances on Cultural Day and also learn new things, like cooking,” says Veronica. Maria explains, “We have mentors to help teach us to make the dishes. We had a practice day last weekend and then we got feedback to help us perfect our cooking today.”
“My favourite food today is bada,” says Veronica. “It’s a kind of stiff porridge made from cassava flour,” she explains.
Attendees sample foods including loshoro, a Maasai dish which is a mixture of maize and fermented milk, mtori, a meal of banana and beef and mlenda, a dish from the Singida area in central Tanzania, made of ground leaves and tomatoes.
Cultural Day is a celebration unique to St Jude’s - a day full of fun, but also with an important purpose. “It’s a great way to help our students learn about their roots,” says Miss Doreen.
Like trees, our students must have healthy roots in order to grow tall and strong. To become the future leaders of Tanzania, St Jude’s students must have a deep understanding of the country’s culture.
Through events like Cultural Day, St Jude’s nurtures our students’ growth from within. As Fausta, a Form 4 students puts it, “This day builds something in our hearts.”