Program launched with royal blessings


PRINCESS ANNE - The University of Maryland Eastern Shore is launching its newest major, an African-American and African studies program, this weekend with all the pomp and ceremony befitting a monarch.

In this case, the royalty is Otumfuo Osei Tutu II, the 50-year-old king of the Asante, or Ashanti, region of the Republic of Ghana, who is scheduled to receive an honorary degree tomorrow at commencement on the Somerset County campus.

Officials at UMES see the king's three-day visit as symbolic confirmation of a growing academic and cultural link between the historically black institution and numerous African nations. The relationship, they say, will only deepen as students begin work in the multidisciplinary program.

"It's late in coming; as African-Americans, we identify very much with what we call our homeland, Mother Africa," said Delores Spikes, president of the 115-year-old university. "We know this will be one of our fastest-growing majors."

UMES officials began laying groundwork for the program three years ago by forming a partnership with the University of the Cape Coast in Ghana, funded in part by a $100,000 grant from the U.S. Agency for International Development.

Before that, UMES had been working on agricultural projects in Ghana, Zambia, Cameroon, Egypt and Senegal, and had been exchanging faculty with several African universities.

Brenda Anderson, who as dean of the arts and professions helped develop the program and will oversee it, built such close ties in Ghana that she was given an African name, Nana Adjoa Ankora II, and made an Asante queen.

She considers the title to be the highest of honors in the Gold Coast country, where bloodlines and tribal ties are important.

"It's not just a name; I'm a queen until I die, and my daughter will follow after me," Anderson said. "It couldn't be any more serious than if I were born in Ghana."

University officials say the program will provide opportunities for undergraduates to study in Africa.

"This is a milestone, an open door that will also bring many other people to study here," said Lamin Mbye, a former ambassador from Gambia who has taught history for 16 years at UMES.

Like a similar African-American studies program at the University of Maryland, College Park, this one incorporates science, language and fine arts - a liberal arts background that UMES officials say should prepare students for a variety of career paths, including diplomatic service, teaching or law.

Graduate school in a variety of fields, including a master's degree program in African studies at Morgan State University, also would be an option, Mbye said.

"Once this was a small, provincial university, but no more," Mbye said. "It is important in this era of globalization that you have a broad background, especially in liberal arts."

Tutu, 16th ruler in a 300-year-old dynasty, dazzled hundreds of well-wishers yesterday with a grand entrance at the Ella Fitzgerald Performing Arts Center, where he was accompanied by an entourage of dancers, drummers and attendants, all wearing colorful, traditional cloth wraps.

The king, a businessman who studied accounting in Africa and London, wore an ankle-length wrap, gold rings on each finger, a heavy-looking gold necklace and other ornaments that date to the 1700s. Attendants held a decorative umbrella over his head as he paced into the auditorium.

Tutu sat quietly in a leather chair, his feet on a pillow, throughout a two-hour ceremony that included speeches and rousing gospel music from the Eastern Shore Heritage Mass Choir.

Although the king's role is largely ceremonial in Ghana, the Asante region is the most populous and, with its huge mineral deposits, is considered to be the country's economic backbone.

Tutu will remain in the United States for the next several weeks, raising money for the Otumfuo Education Fund and other charitable foundations he has created.

Praising the UMES program as a chance to renew ties between American blacks and Africans, the king said, "A people without knowledge of their history are like a tree without roots. We who are descendants of this illustrious culture are charged not to forget our roots."

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