Art & Culture
A Year Around the World in Four Fairs
By Kashmiraa Pandit
Volume 1 Issue 8
June 8, 2021
Original photos by Kashmiraa Pandit
A bracelet for clean water, an origami Ox, a precious set of bangles, and a rose syrup. What could these four different objects have in common? Though initially a mere amalgamation of independent items, each present immense value in the context of a cultural celebration. As we travel through this past year to discover their relationship, please allow me to share the significance of each.
The Beaded Bracelet: November, Nairobi, Kenya
Earlier this year, The Culture Society held our first virtual school-wide event featuring our first national guest speaker, Ms. Christina, of the Georgia-based organization Just One Africa. A nonprofit which works directly with local Kenyan leaders, Just One Africa helps provide water filters to the local communities. Each filter distribution brings the people together, as they learn about its use, the process of water filtration and the importance in regard to greater health. In effect, many children, often young girls, who would spend hours retrieving water from contaminated water sources, could now study in schools built by partner organizations of Just One Africa. This past November, the Culture Society had the chance to partner with Just One Africa’s member, Ms. Christina, to learn about how we could help. Through hosting a Beads-for-Water fundraiser, in which participants crafted bracelets made from recycled paper beads - each hand made by the Maasai women - the funds raised contributed to the new water filters. More importantly, we each learned the simplicity of kindness and making a difference to foster unity in diversity across myriad communities. On a personal note, having the chance to bring JOA to North and work with them to help children, both within North and abroad, realize their potential has proven among one of the many impactful, heartwarming, and fulfilling experiences offered by The Culture Society since its inception.
[Please feel free to see JOA’s latest updates from Georgia and Kenya at: @justoneafrica on Instagram, and Facebook.]
The Origami Ox: January, Shanghai, China
As icy January winds blew outside our windows, the students of The Culture Society kindled the flame of curiosity as our presenters shared the symbolic meanings of Chinese New Year traditions, from the significance of the ancient Chinese zodiac to red envelopes (for luck and money), the historic lion dance, and bursts of firecrackers. As our presenters explained, the lion dance originated in the Tang Dynasty and continues to represent prosperity for the New Year. Following the guidance of our presenters, we each had the chance to create traditional Chinese lanterns and the origami Ox, symbolic of the Chinese zodiac this year. From our presenters, it was also interesting to learn the origins of the common phrases used today.
A Blossom and a Bangle: March, Punjab, India
With the start of spring blossoms, one student shared a presentation about Indian weddings, explaining the series of vibrant traditional events, including the jovial Sangeet ceremony celebrating the union of the two families, a memorable Mehndi or Shringaar night filled with henna for the bride, and the importance of prayer to begin the week of wedding ceremonies. Among these events, the bangles given to the bride, known as “Chooda”, serve as a memento from her parents, siblings, cousins, and family. Additionally, the color of the bangles varies throughout each state of India to represent different qualities, such as red in Punjab to symbolize vigor or green in Maharashtra for creativity. As our presenter described and displayed through personal photos and videos, the family, friends, relatives, and guests all donned in colorful attire, enjoy the week of wedding ceremonies as they celebrate the familial union.
A Rose Syrup: May, Jakarta, Indonesia
As the year came to a close, we had the chance to attend a presentation about Eid and Ramadan, learning of its origins, practices, and vast cuisine. The presenters explained the various routines observed during the period, from morning and evening processes to begin and break each daily fast. Among the traditional dishes, a drink made primarily from rose syrup is often used to break the fast with others during each evening, as the syrup is known for its qualities in reducing dehydration and fatigue to increase energy. Finally, our group learned of the various pilgrimages made in Indonesia and Saudi Arabia.
Over this past year, the Culture Society grew to host a plethora of events, with each of the four focusing on a new culture, complete with presentations by speakers focused on ethnic traditions, cuisines, and handmade creations. From the Kenyan Water Crisis, to the Chinese New Year, Sikh weddings, and Eid and Ramadan practices, we had the chance to learn and experience the rich vibrancy of each nationality’s unique celebration. As each presentation progressed, interwoven similarities between nationalities became clearer. Bearing much resemblance to the practice of bestowing red envelopes during the Chinese New Year and the blessings of gift ceremonies in Indian weddings, children are given packets and presents on Eid in a manner similar to that of Christmas, for each ethnicity presented their own form of gift-giving, in effect further fostering the intertwined similarities in nature amongst various cultures. Most of all, we learned that although stemming from various regions spanned across the world, through each of the four items from each of the four fairs, a common theme of love for family, friends, and life weaved through each, bringing people together in the same way we had come together for the joy of exploring a new culture. In the end, through each of the four fairs, we enjoyed and explored the rich traditions, ancient origins, and vivid diversity of every community.