Pupils to show what they've learned on African 'journey'


IBY IKOTIDEM, the mother of two children who attend Hammond Elementary School, has put together an elaborate program to teach youths about her native Nigeria.

Since January, she has been teaching schoolchildren about the clothing, foods and cultures of Africa. But most of all, she has been teaching them about dances. "Dances are identified with culture," she explained.

The program, called "Journey Through Africa," was supposed to culminate in a performance Feb. 18 by pupils in all grades. But that was during the week that Howard County schools were closed after the big snowstorm of Presidents Day weekend. The program was rescheduled for today.

Ikotidem has lived in North Laurel for 10 years, moving from Nigeria to be with her husband, Dominick, an American citizen who was born in Nigeria.

Growing up with 11 brothers and sisters, Ikotidem had a privileged childhood. Her father was an important figure in state politics, she said, helping draw Nigeria's first map after the country declared independence from Britain in 1960.

She went to missionary schools and earned a bachelor's degree in mass communications from a university in northern Africa. Now, she is taking classes to become a nurse.

Three years ago, when her son, Anthony, was in first grade, his teacher invited her to teach the children about Nigeria and Africa, she recalled. "I thought that was really neat and said it would be fine."

She brought in traditional Nigerian garb for the teacher to model and taught the children Nigerian dances. "We talked about Nigerian culture, how it takes a village to raise a child, which is what we practice back home," she said. "Everyone's an uncle and an auntie." They also talked about African food.

The response was very positive, she said.

Last year, she could not find the time to participate, but this year she decided to expand the program to include the entire school. "Knowledge is power, as far as I am concerned," she said.

Ikotidem, a member of the school's Cultural Arts Committee headed by Mary Quinn, taught children in each grade a different dance. The lessons were conducted twice a week during school recess, so she walked from class to class, spending 20 minutes with each group, she said.

All the boys learned the same dance, she said, but the girls were taught different dances depending on their grade level.

Girls in first and second grades learned a dance of identification and friendship, usually associated with children in preschool and elementary school, she said. "You play with your best friend while you dance," she said.

Third-graders learned a fisherman's dance. "There's a lot of fishing back in Africa," she said. "The men go fishing, and when they are coming home, the wives dance."

Fourth-graders learned African folk songs and a maiden dance.

"As a girl in Africa, when you are growing up, you are groomed to become a good wife and it is a very serious affair," Ikotidem said.

A girl is typically taken to the marketplace, where she is evaluated by the men in the community. One fourth-grade boy is expected to perform in this dance along with the girls, Ikotidem said.

Fifth-grade girls learned a harvest dance that is typically performed as a celebration after the crops have come in.

Along with the dances, a fashion show is scheduled, with the pupils and teachers dressed in costumes that Ikotidem made. Ikotidem's daughter, Chantel, the leader of the first-grade dance, will also read a poem about Africa, Ikotidem said.

For Ikotidem, the "Journey Through Africa" program is a chance to share her culture and her love of dance.

"I've danced all my life," she said. "I danced for my schools when I was back home. I've been a professional dancer back home, teaching dances and dancing, as well."

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