By Meghan Oliver (Sentinel Staff Writer)
Kwo kwo co was on the menu at a vibrant celebration of Cameroon's culture this past weekend. A traditional meal made of palm nut extract and chicken or fish, the hearty selection was a warm reminder of a land so far away from Prince George's County.
Fako America, a national organization of people from the Fako Division of the Republic of Cameroon in West Africa, celebrated its culture July 1-3 as part of its yearly convention that attracts people from throughout the country. Held at the Best Western Inn in Laurel, the three-day event kicked off with a dinner, traditional tribal dancing and music Friday night.
Dr. Samuel Moki, national director of Fako America, teamed up with the organization's D.C. chapter leader, Mary Mbango Evakise-Keke, to plan the festival.
This mission of Fako America, explained Moki, is "to sensitize people here about our culture, and to also familiarize us with our culture." Many children born to Cameroonian parents here in the United States find a link to their heritage through the organization.
Moki said that although Cameroon may be familiar to some Americans who follow soccer, there is more to the highly tribal country of which people should be aware, including the country's trouble in combating its high AIDS rate.
Many of the immigrants from Cameroon "come here for educational opportunities," he said. Fako America is a way for those new to the United States, and those wishing to stay connected to their roots, to bond. The organization also provides assistance to fellow Cameroonians, with scholarship programs and assistance with health care.
While the official languages of Cameroon are English and French, Evakise-Keke explained that there are "about 300" different tribal languages. The unique dialects are just one part in keeping the Cameroonians culture intact.
Traditional tribal dancing, demonstrated at the festival, is not just a look into the country's past. Dancing still plays a role in Cameroon today.
"It's very much alive," said Evakise-Keke. "It is very much a value in our culture."
The children at Friday's event—some in suits and dresses, and others in traditional Cameroonian garb—had their choice of traditional food such as the kwo kwo co, or pizza. When the pizza boxes were opened up on a buffet table, the children excitedly helped themselves, foregoing the traditional items.
"They are American," laughed Moki.
Photo by Marketa Ebert