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Worldwide Focus Issue 3

Worldwide Focus

Photo: Rodger Bosch, Media Club

Cultures and Festivals around the World


An initiative by



Worldwide Focus Issue 3





Editor Kelly Easton



Sub-editors Kirsty Telfer

06 11 12 14



Ghana Festivals

Pooja B.

Our Happy Culture The Tamkharit Festival

(India) Mircea Samoila (Romania) Amine Sall (Senegal)

18 22

For this colourful edition our writers were given the opportunity to explore a variety of cultures from around the world, from their unique traditions to their exciting festivals and celebrations.

The freedom to practise an ethical culture is indeed something to appreciate, as cultural diversity allows

South Africa: Our Country, Our Cultures


Welcome to our third edition of Worldwide Focus.

us to recognise the beauty, the differences and even the similarities in how we and others live.

Cheikh Saad Bou Seye

Clash of the Titans: The Dance Forms


Play Back


We hope all our readers are proud of their heritage and culture.

EASTERN EUROPE 24 28 32 36 38

Kelly Easton Editor

Page Layout Fabiola Sanchez

Garden of Traditions Ioan Maric Nicolae Diaconu Emilia Tiganescu

Art Direction Antonio Gallo Project Advisor Elisa Glangeaud

The Peasant Fortress of Prejmer

© Voices of the World, published by Projects Abroad, 2010 All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means—electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise—without prior written permission of Projects Abroad. Views and opinions expressed in Voices of the World are not necessarily those of Projects Abroad. The publisher can accept no liability or loss in connection with the contents of the publication.

Our Partners



Worldwide Focus Issue 3

Meet the team





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in SENEGAL Mame Fatou Dieng Sow




in SOUTH AFRICA Courtney May

Aviwe Mgijima

Belinda Anderson

Matthew Martin

Samkelisiwe Xaba

Ellen Arthur

Toy-yiebah Cupido

Ziyanda Nxawe

Mary Obo

Inganathi Ndzule

Liam Beyers

Mansura Adam


in UK Brodie Robertson


in BELGIUM Michiel Bellon


in ROMANIA Maria Lupu Andreea - Ioana Vihristencu


in INDIA Leena Yazhini



Worldwide Focus Issue 3

AFRICA Photo: Toomas

Ghana Festivals A Country Called Ghana Ghana is a country located in the Western part of the African continent. It is well known around the world for its splendid performance in the Football World Cup in South Africa in 2010.

Text by Belinda Anderson › in GHANA

Hogbertsotso is a festival celebrated in November. It is celebrated by the Ewe people.

Numerous traditional societies in Ghana express their culture in diverse ways; through their language, literature, religion and moral laws set by themselves for themselves. In Ghana we have six major ethnic groups, namely, Akan, Guan, Dagomba, Ewe, Ga and Gonja. These ethnic groups speak languages which are known by their traditional names, for instance, the Akans speak Akan, Ewes speak Ewe and Dagombas speak Dagbami.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Text by Mansura Adam › in GHANA

Just like any African country, Ghana has its own culture which makes it unique. The indigenous culture of the Ghanaian society has made it possible for the people to live harmoniously and to suggest ideas about development.

Hogbertsotso Festival

Northern Ghana is occupied by people who are crop and cattle famers. They also make leather items from hides and cow skin, sheep and goats. In Southern Ghana the Ewes, Ga’s and Fantes are known for fishing in the sea. Photo: Yoyo 6ce. Wikimedia Commons

These are just some of the things that make Ghana a wonderful place to be in.

Photo: Toomas

The culture of the traditional communities can be seen through the work they do and how they do them. Traditional Akans from the forest zones of Ghana are food crop and cash crop farmers as well as cloth weavers, metal workers and hunters.

The festival is celebrated to show how they escaped from the cruel King Agokoli of Togo. The Ewe people are located in the Volta region of Ghana. During the festival the King, Queen, elders and all the people in the community wear their best cloth. The priest pours libation and thank the Gods for protecting them and the people of Ghana. The people dance and entertain themselves during the festival. The Hogbetsosto festival is important because it serves as a medium to settle family disputes and misunderstanding. It also helps bring together families after a long separation by geographical location; and it brings peace and unity to the country. People in Ghana consider it to be a peaceful festival celebrated among the people of the Volta region. Among all the festivals, Hogbetsosto is cherished and loved by all Ghanaians and the people of the Ewe tribe.

Text by Ellen Arthur › in GHANA

Kente is very beautiful and Ghanaians wear it to dance in, especially in the Ashanti region where they wear it to dance the Adowa.

Photo: Enzo Rivos. Wikimedia Commons

Kente Ghanaians are people who celebrate life to the fullest. One thing that is very significant to Ghanaian culture is Kente cloth. Most of the people in Ghana like to wear Kente dresses, but mostly the town King and the Queen Mother. It is a cloth which is made by Ghanaian weavers and is very famous in Western Africa. It comes from the Ashanti region in Ghana and is very important to the Akan people.


Worldwide Focus Issue 3


There are many different kinds of Kente in Ghana. They are all different colours and the colours all mean something different. Kente cloth can be worn to many different places where there is an occasion, such as a naming ceremony, an engagement or a graduation. But most of the time it is the Ashanti King and his wife and village elders who wear it. Anyone who is dancing or performing for the King and his family will wear Kente and it is very popular during festivals and special ceremonies.

Ghanaian Festivals Photo: Aripeskoe2. Wikimedia Commons


Text by Mary Obo › in GHANA

Festivals are very important occasions among the people of Ghana. There are a lot of festivals celebrated all over the country. Some of these are: Aboakyer, Homowo, Odwira, Hobotsotso as well as international ones such as Eid, Easter and Christmas. The Aboakyer festival is one of the most popular in Ghana and is celebrated by the Efutu people of Winneba during the month of May. Winneba is a large fishing town in the central region of Ghana. During this festival a live deer is presented to the Gods. Many years ago, humans were used for sacrifice. However, this was changed to a deer when the people realised that too many members of the royal family were being killed! It was also considered cruel to kill a person for a festival. The festival begins with a brass band procession in the evening. The next day, the priest offers libation to the Gods and then the Asafo groups go to purify themselves by bathing in the sea. After that, the Asafo people go together to hunt for the deer. Before they go hunting,

they sprinkle a mixture of roots and herbs over its body. They also smear themselves with clay. This is said to help ensure that they return safely. The first group to catch the deer presents it to the Omanhene people, who then perform some rituals before receiving the deer. When the second group arrives, all of the people march through the streets in the town and later gather at the shrine which is in place for the Gods. On the last day, members of the two Asafo groups gather and they present the deer to be sacrificed to the Gods. The diviners perform some rituals to tell the fate of the town for the coming year. Festivals in Ghana are seen as very important and bring a lot of joy to the people. Festivals are celebrated to mark the beginning of a traditional year. They offer an

opportunity for people to learn about their traditions and cultures and to enable us to offer thanks to the ancestral spirits for their protection during the year that has passed. Festivals ensure that the traditions of a community are continued and passed on from generation to generation. The Aboakyer festival also marks the beginning of harvesting food, like yam, and the start of a new farming season. It enables us to evaluate projects and activities that have taken place in the past year and to make plans for future development projects. It is also important because it remembers and mourns those who died during the year. Aboakyer festival is a unique festival that is cherished and loved by the people of Winneba, Ghana.


Worldwide Focus Issue 3

Africa Text by Mansura Adam › in GHANA

The Adae Festival Festivals form a great part of the Ghanaian culture. In Ghana there are thousands of festivals, which differ from community to community. These festivals are celebrated for a number of diverse reasons, which include emancipation and victory over opponents. Quite a number of Ghanaians are enthusiastic about the idea of celebrating festivals. This is because festive occasions give the citizens and inhabitants of a community an opportunity to make their plights known to the chiefs and leaders. It also provides a platform for the settlement of quarrels and disputes as well as teaching the youth about their family traditions.

The Adae festival is celebrated by the Twi speaking Akans. It is celebrated every 40 days to honour the ancestors and to remember the great events of the state. The festival is embraced with a lot of activities and a fun atmosphere. On the eve of the celebrations, the (stool drummer), beats the talking drums to announce the arrival of the chief. During the drumming, the Okyerema mentions the names of the materials used in making the drums. These include cedar wood, the pegs and hide. The cedar wood is used for making the talking drum whilst the pegs and hide are used to make the top of the drum. The Okerema, after calling upon all the materials used whilst making the drums, calls upon the ancestor drummers (spirits of the dead), stool ancestors (the dead chiefs) and recites the history of the state. He then calls upon the living God and other divinities. During the celebration of Adae, the ancestors are offered food by the chief and the royals in the stool house. Participants enjoy the food and drink prepared for the ancestors. The blood of the sacrificial animal is sprinkled on the stools and on the people for purification. The chief then invokes the spirit of the Gods and ancestors and asks for blessings. The subjects pay homage to the chief and disputes are settled. During this merry occasion there are songs of thanksgiving, drumming and dancing taking place. The leaders plan projects for the coming year and account for the previous year. Individuals relax their minds and have fun during this festival.

Text by Mary Obo › in GHANA

Our happy culture In Ghana we say that culture is the way of life of any given society. Ghanaians believe their culture makes people happy. It also makes them unique. These are some of the common traits of the Ghanaian culture: • Music • Dance • Clothing/Fashion • Language • Food • Hospitality Photo: Kirsty Telfer

Photo: Brendan Lally. Wikimedia Commons


Music and dance is very important in every society in Ghana. Every ethnic group has its own music and dance, yet each group respects that of the other. They tend to ingrate the people of Ghana. Some of those songs are sung on occasions such as funerals, festivals, story-telling and durbars.

In Ghana, the Akan’s love Fufu and normally eat it every day. In the town of Senya Beraku, the most common food is Banku. This is because is it very common and you will always see people eating it. If people in Senya don’t eat Banku regularly, they say they can’t sit down!

There are many different music genres in Ghana. These are traditional, Christian gospel, highlife, hip-hop and Islamic music. There are many different types of food enjoyed in Ghana. Every ethnic group has its own food. Fufu is the most common food for the Akans. Fufu is made from pounded yam, cassava and/or plantain. It is made into dough and served with soup. Akple is eaten by the Ewes and is made up of fermented corn and cassava dough. It is also served with a soup or sometimes a stew. For Muslims, Tuo Zaafi is one of their traditional dishes and is eaten by the people of the northern and upper regions of Ghana. Banku is enjoyed by the Ga and Fante people.

The reason why Ghanaian people love their culture is because Ghanaians believe that festivals and naming ceremonies unite people and societies, as well as preventing war and conflict like so many of Ghana’s neighbours. They also believe that festivals bring blessings from their ancestors and Gods and as a result must be continued to avoid calamities. Also, gifts and money presented during naming ceremonies help support the child’s parents. Helping others in the community is also a big part of Ghanaian culture.


Worldwide Focus Issue 3


The Tamkharit Festival The Tamkharit Festival, or Achoura in Arabic, is an important religious event in Senegal and predominantly Muslim countries. It marks the beginning of New Year on the Muslim Calendar. In fact, it is celebrated in the evening of the ninth day of the New Year. This year, it was celebrated on 26 November 2012 in Senegal.

Text by Mame Fatou Dieng Sow › in SENEGAL

In Senegal, the Tamkharit Festival is both a religious and cultural event. It is also called the Couscous Festival because people prepare couscous for dinner, with tomato sauce, meat and different types of vegetables. The legend says that if someone fails to eat enough couscous that night, they won’t have enough food for the year and they will eventually die before the end of the year. This is the reason why a lot of people go to the hospital the morning after Tamkharit, because they ate too much couscous! Another legend says that those who don’t eat enough on Tamkharit will be visited by a wicked angel who will scare them in their sleep at night.

Photo: Melga.


The rituals start in the morning when the Senegalese men slaughter oxen in the street. Then the meat is shared equally among the neighbouring families. The women sing special songs while preparing the evening meal. In the afternoon, women offer part of their couscous to their neighbours and relatives and they receive couscous in return. They also visit the marabout, a Muslim religious leader, to get a talisman to protect the family from any evil in the New Year. At night, after enjoying the couscous, people go out in the street in groups for the Tadiaboon, a carnival involving both children and adults. Men put on women’s clothes and women wear men’s clothes. They play drums and they dance and even go from house to house to wish people a happy Tamkharit until 2am. In

return, they are offered couscous or uncooked rice or money. This is a Senegalese custom, which has been passed on from generation to generation. The next morning is a public holiday devoted to prayers in the mosques. The Imams recite Koranic verses and religious songs can be heard from the mosques and choruses are repeated by the audience. Later in the day, the celebration continues in the streets with people dancing and playing the False Lion game. Cheers and laughter fill the day. Being the first festival on the Muslim calendar, Tamkharit is also an opportunity for family members and friends to get together.

South Africa: our country, our cultures

South Africa’s Indian Culture Text by Courtney May and Matthew Martin › in SOUTH AFRICA

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Doopmal – A special part of the Muslim culture Text by Toy-yiebah Cupido › in SOUTH AFRICA

My name is Toy-yiebah and I’m a Muslim. In my faith the meaning of a Muslim’s name is very important, because it is said to describe how the person will turn out – I’m pleased to share that my name means love and happiness. It comes as no surprise though, that parents are obligated to pick an honourable name for their baby. Doopmaal, which is the name-giving ceremony of a baby, is a very special part of our culture.


Worldwide Focus Issue 3


The naming of a baby usually takes place on the seventh day after the baby’s birth. For the name-giving ceremony, the little baby is wrapped in a medoura – a scarf embroidered with gold thread and decorated with flowers. Family and friends (who are all very excited) and of course the Imaam attend the ceremony, during which a lock of the baby’s soft hair is gently cut off and something sweet, like honey, is placed on the baby’s little lips hoping that the child will have a ‘sweet’ future. After the Imaam and the father of the baby offer up prayers, tea and delicious cakes and desserts are served to celebrate. I recently looked at my baby album and saw pictures of the day of my naming ceremony and I truly believe that I am a happy and loving person – just as my name suggests.

Photo: dcubillas.


The Indian community of South Africa are indeed unique and offer a great deal to our Rainbow Nation. Mostly living in the city of Durban, they make up around 2.5% of South Africa’s population and mainly have English as a first language. Their culture is respected and wellpractised in our country, it’s also colourful and certainly interesting. Thoroughly enjoyed, Indian cultural food consists of: breyani-rice, a wide range of spices, naanbread and of course various types of curries (they love their spicy food). Delicious? You bet! Another thing in their culture is their beautiful clothing, women wear salwar-kameez with dupatta (scarf) and for the men, a kurta-pyjamas and European long trousers. Also a major aspect is their romance with dancing, which includes eight classical forms. Not too long ago, thousands of South Africans from all backgrounds got together to enjoy the Holi celebration – also known as the Festival of Colours. This beautiful celebration allows Hindus, one the main religions in the Indian culture, to welcome spring with a splash of all the colours of the rainbow. South Africa has many cultures and the Indian culture is without a doubt a beautiful one!


Worldwide Focus Issue 3


Kaapse Klopse: The Cape Town Minstrel Carnival

Isixhosa: Entering Manhood

Text by Liam Beyers › in SOUTH AFRICA

Text by Inganathi Ndzule, Aviwe Mgijima, Samkelisiwe Xaba and Ziyanda Nxawe › in SOUTH AFRICA

It all starts at the age of five or six when parents buy an instrument for their children. Whether it’s a tambourine, symbol or a drum, they will practise until they are introduced to the Klopse. The Cape Town Minstrel Carnival takes place annually on 2 January.

The Klopse dates back to the time when the slaves were given the day off by their Dutch masters, the only day of the year when they were ‘free’. So they made the most of it by bringing music, dance and happiness to the city. Today the celebration is no different. The Klopse is a big part of my culture and I enjoy nothing more than singing, dancing and dressing in our colourful costumes. Painted faces are also the main part of the carnival.

Photo: Tzooka.

Our culture is very important to us and it teaches us to live an honest, respectable life. The Isixhosa culture has come a long way.

Each year, around 13 thousand minstrels go to the main streets in Cape Town to play their music and have fun in their ‘Klopse’.

Photo: Clarissa de Wet

Isixhosa is a very strict culture in South Africa where traditions are regarded as very important. One of these important customs is the initiation of teenage boys. Ulwaluko, is considered a learning experience which involves isolation, ritual food and circumcision – turning a boy into a man. During this custom, boys are expected to live in the bush alone for several weeks and have other boys (inqalathe) bring them basic supplies every day and women are not allowed to visit them. This is said to teach a boy, among other things, how to respect women and other men and observe various cultural taboos.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons




Worldwide Focus Issue 3


Text by Leena › in INDIA

Clash of the Titans:

The Dance Forms

There are two very distinct dance forms in South India, one called the Bharatanatyam and the other is the folk dance. Known for its grace, the Bharatanatyam is focused on expression and the particular ways in which it is performed. Dancers wearing special costumes are adorned with beautiful, colourful jewels and other exquisite accessories. As with the English opera, songs are used to develop a story and theme. With the Baratanatyam, however, dancers do not sing but express feelings and emotions through movements. A separate group of vocalists sing the songs, accompanied by musicians. The Bharatanatyam incorporates nine different ‘rasas’

I had a heavenly opportunity to witness a performance

or emotions such as love, comedy, compassion,

by two of the most talented Bharathanatyam dancers.

anger, valour, fear, disgust, wonder and calmness.

Archana Soundarajan and Aishwarya both started

The entire dance is performed displaying only these

learning this dance form from a very early age. The

nine rasas, which all together make up what is called

performance I witnessed was composed around a song

the ‘navarasa’. The dancers also execute dance steps,

celebrating Lord Ganesha: his life, his appearance,

which are graceful and need continuous practise in

his favourite dish (which happens to be modak) and

order to be performed with perfection.

his greatness. The group of singers and musicians

accompanied the dancers superbly and I was mesmerised by the performance. I felt as though I was truly experiencing the emotions and feelings expressed through the dancers’ movements.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

This South Indian dance is performed widely during the Margazhi season, during the months of December and January. The dancers are also asked to perform across the world in different sabhas. Television channels also broadcast the dance form, promoting the performances from time-to-time, particularly during Indian festivals. Now we come to the folk dance. The exact opposite of the Bharathanatyam, this dance form exhibits plenty of energy, vigour and power. These folk dances are usually called the rural dance and are particularly popular in rural areas of India. There are various types of folk dances – Oilattam makes use of a piece of cloth, Kalilattam is performed with clubs, Kumiattam involves ladies who sing and dance and Parraiattam features drums made of animal hide. One of South India’s most recognised folk dance is the Parraiattam, known for its energy and rhythm. As with the popular Barathanatyam, this dance requires regular practise to master its form. The dancers often hail from the same clan and it is a tradition passed through families. In some cases, there are dancers from other regions who are trained in Parraiattam. They also perform in festivals, gatherings and other major events. The dance may also be included in an invitation to a major event as the performance acts as an invitation for upcoming functions.

The Bharatanatyam incorporates nine different ‘rasas’ or emotions such as love, comedy, compassion, anger, valour, fear, disgust, wonder and calmness. The entire dance is performed displaying only these nine rasas, which all together make up what is called the ‘navarasa’.


Worldwide Focus Issue 3


Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Photo: Jean-Pierre Dalbcra. Wikimedia Commons


The Bharatanatyam incorporates nine different ‘rasas’ or emotions such as love, comedy, compassion, anger, valour, fear, disgust, wonder and calmness. The entire dance is performed displaying only these nine rasas, which all together make up what is called the ‘navarasa’.

Particularly energetic, this dance contains many steps that are so intricate and exquisite that it makes the viewer’s experience highly memorable. The audience can feel the rhythm, which creates an urge for collective participation, as they wish to dance along. The dance is usually performed by a group of people who include the beat of a drum in their routines, creating their own rhythm to match the steps. Inspired by the various stories and themes, these dances are left filled with emotion. Dance forms can also be used to create a sense of awareness, as they provide effective ways of reaching out to people at large.


Worldwide Focus Issue 3


Text by Yazhini › in INDIA

Play Back Before the famous television became the prime form of entertainment in our society, what did people do to pass time? Let’s rewind to the early days of entertainment in India.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Many Southern people occupied themselves with agricultural work, this kept them busy throughout the year but they always found time to gather for religious meetings and village festivals. During these functions people would gather together to celebrate and found entertainment in Therukoothu. Therukoothu is, very simply, a street play. The Tamil people used to act out the story of the two great Hindu people such as Mahabharata and Ramayana or the classic Tamil folklore, depending on the occasion. This street play would take place in the village square in open air, not performing on the stage but on the plain ground. Usually Therukoothu started around 9pm and would continue until 5am the next morning! The artists dressed in colourful costumes and wore heavy makeup. Traditional Therukoothu consists of three major performances: singing, dancing and acting. And the artist had to be talented in all three things. In the past, people were invited to see the Therukoothu by a village messenger who made an announcement on what story would be played, the time and the venue. The people would gather there in time with their companions. In the village squares, the gas lights were lit. Being a street play, there was no need for any stage or settings. The performance would flow scene by scene with some song accompaniment to describe the events. Sometimes these songs were necessary in explaining why a particular action happened in that scene.

Photo: Sasanka Perera


Photo: Jorge Royan. Wikimedia Commons

One of the most interesting things is that the female characters in a play would also be portrayed by male artists. Sometimes the plays would also feature a clown to break the usual happenings. This clown would go in and around the audience and make them laugh with their ridiculous actions. At the end, the audience might give some amount of money as a gift to the players if their acting satisfied them. They would have felt the liveliness in that play. We have to admire the talent, coordination, smartness and wit of street actors. They performed not only for entertainment but also for religious and social reasons. In Tamil Nadu people are practising polytheism that is the worshiping of many Gods. Each and every temple in Tamil Nadu has its own flashback story which reveals the reason why we worship a particular deity. These messages are carried out from generation to generation through Therukoothu.

The people would gather there in time with their companions. In the village squares, the gas lights were lit. Being a street play, there was no need for any stage or settings and all. The social benefit of street theatre is that it gives individuals a break from their monotonous life and it feeds their psychological needs. As everyone knows, India believes in caste system, which is full of strong discrimination. During the play everyone used to sit together to enjoy it and it broke the discrimination for some time. There is historical evidence of social reform through Therukoothu. This wonderful and fascinating art originated in 200BC. Although its name differs from state to state, like Veethinataka in Andhrapradesh, the core principles are the same.

Unfortunately, this mind boggling art is now performed rarely in its purest form. Nowadays we have adapted it to the modern lifestyle, with use of microphones, colour lights, stages and settings. If this allows the art form to go on existing, though, these concessions are a small price to pay. We should continue to teach Therekoothu to the present generation. It has many modulations, like mime and student awareness programmes in villages. We must take the utmost care to save this special form of entertainment from extinction.



Worldwide Focus Issue 3


Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Text by Maria Lupu › in Romania

Romania: Garden of Traditions Sow a Custom, Reap a Culture

When we sow a little seed in fertile soil, with our care and nurture it eventually will grow into a plant. Likewise, when we seed a tradition, the nation will reap a culture, a civilisation. But what happens if we cease to ‘sow’ the tradition? What will we do when, without ‘nourishment’, the plant withers and dies? Romania is the country where traditions are like fingers: all of them come from the same ‘hand’, but none is the same as the other. For example, Maramures is the only place in Europe where unglased red pottery is still produced. The pots are manufactured through the same method passed down for generations. The zone is also well-known for people’s hospitality. Ardeal is the land where the smell of sponge cakes, smoked sausages and sarmale (minced meat in cabbage rolls) make from every Christmas Eve a long-expected feast. In Moldova,

wooden churches are the witnesses of the faithfulness in which the people have lived for centuries. Their faith in religion has helped them to get through all hardships and sufferings. In Romania, customs and traditions are like a rainbow after rain: they refresh and rejoice the soul. No matter what difficulties they are confronted with, no matter how tough their life is, no matter what happened yesterday, when it comes to holidays people seek

Voronet monastery in Moldova, part of the UNESCO World Heritage

In Romania, customs and traditions are like a rainbow after rain: they refresh and rejoice the soul.


Worldwide Focus Issue 3

Eastern Europe

Unglazed red pottery – still made using a technique dating back 2000 years

enjoyment and happiness in each feast. Just like weddings or other ceremonies, people follow each practice by the book, as if they are children carefully chasing a lost treasure. Perhaps their treasure is the profound bond they have with family and their origins. As for crafts, their inherited skills are the most genuine proof that Romanian people have something to be proud of: they succeeded in keeping alive a heritage from our ancestors; it’s amazing how the flame of tradition wasn’t allowed to be extinguished by the wind of change. Paula Necula is a French teacher who has travelled a lot and who has had the opportunity to experience new customs; therefore she understands the very meaning of tradition. ‘In my opinion, traditions

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Photo: Wikimedia Commons


‘Sarmale’ traditional food (minced meat in cabbage rolls)

In my opinion, traditions represent the landmark, the ID of our nation. In a confusing world, they provide something steady, reliable and safe for us: an identity, a sense of belonging.

Voronet monastery (detail)

represent the landmark, the ID of our nation. In a confusing world, they provide something steady, reliable and safe for us: an identity, a sense of belonging,’ says Necula. Alexandra is a 17-year-old student and despite the fact that her experience isn’t broad, she knows how much customs count in a nation and how certain habits keep a family united. ‘For me it’s very important to feel the warmth, to experience the bliss when my family is gathered and we share moments of happiness and serenity. Nothing can compare to my grandmother’s soothing voice when she tells us about old times or when she makes her mouth-watering sponge cakes for a Christmas feast. Traditions make my family what it is right now,’ she explains.

But in a world where cities are continuously expanding and technology and modern lifestyle appeal so much to the young generation, the question is: how can we keep this flame alive? Traditions have found a shelter in rural places and villages, where the few remaining inhabitants struggle with all their might to seed forth the grain of their culture. Yet, it seems that past traditions are like the outdated toys that children leave behind when they become teenagers. Nowadays we aim for evolution, for progress, because the future is more important than the past and this is how traditions end, being packed in a carton box in the ‘attic’ of our life. Necula thinks that ‘following a specific custom nowadays is related unfortunately with living in a rural

site, in a village. And with this comes also a sort of shame, like living in a village as a handicap. It’s like a seal imprinted in our consciousness. Some of us believe foolishly that like we clean up a stain from our clothes, we can get rid our lineage; like if we were millionaires, the wealth will cleanse our past.’ The country where we live is our garden. Guess who the gardeners are? Now, the problem is what we are going to do. Will we let the wind of change wither our flowers? Will we allow indifference to become the ‘pesticide’ that kills our traditions? Have you thought that we can further seed the traditions and keep the culture alive while at the same time enrich our garden with new exotic ‘plants’?

Eastern Europe

Photo: Ana A. Negru



Worldwide Focus Issue 3

Text by Michiel Bellon › in BELGIUM

Painter, Ioan Maric: Providing stability in a changing world

Dark clouds loom over Brasov’s skyline as I set out to interview renowned Romanian painter, Ioan Maric. Maric is one of Romania’s main representatives of the so called ‘naïve art’, an almost childlike form of painting that is unspoilt by formal rules. Naïve art is not academic, not scientific, but a spontaneous expression of the painter’s unique inner voice and all evident in Maric’s work. The captivating rural mysticism doesn’t depend on the brain, but comes ‘from the soul’, as the painter puts it. In all of his work an almost surreal sense of wonder prevails. Myths and legends from his childhood serve as the main source of inspiration for his paintings, in which the whole universe of his native village – Luncani – is superbly well preserved.


First things first: why did you decide to start painting? ‘The decision wasn’t a conscious one. When I was a child, painting was just a way of playing for me. I used to draw the princes and princesses from the various fairytales I liked for fun. As I grew older, these little drawings gradually evolved into full-fledged paintings. But this evolution was not a conscious choice at all. Let me tell you something. In Romania we have a baptism custom. The newly baptised child has to pick an object from a table. The object it chooses predicts the profession it will have later in his life. I picked the paint brush. So you could say I was destined to become a painter! The stories from my childhood still influence me very much today. My fascination with children’s stories even explains my preference for naïve art. This art allowed me to continue playing and fantasising after my childhood had gone. Naïve art always thrives on childlike inspiration and creativity. Not on the dry commands of convention. Of course, all of this does not mean that I didn’t have to make any effort to become a painter. My talent was an innate gift but to develop this gift I had to work really hard.’ Luncani’s traditional ways of life play a large role in your work. Why is that? ‘The memories of my childhood had a large impact on my work because I perceive a deep inner bond with the people, places and traditions that I grew up with. They are very close to my soul. That is also why I believe it is extremely important to preserve these traditions. Tradition provides people with a kind of stability in a world that is changing too fast. In Romania, we have a saying: he who does not love his tradition, does not love himself. Therefore, poets, sculptors and painters should spread the message that conservation of the past is of uttermost importance.’ Religion forms a large part of Romanian tradition. Is your work in any way religiously inspired? ‘Certainly. I lived in Israel for two years and there I visited, among other places, the


Worldwide Focus Issue 3

Eastern Europe

sacred Jordan River and the burial place of Christ and this influenced my painting greatly. Moreover, in order to educate myself as a painter, I visited churches and monuments from all kinds of religions. Although I myself am of the Eastern Orthodox faith, I believe people of different religions all pray to the same God. The place where you are born determines which faith you belong to and which tradition you ought to respect, but in the end human beings are the same everywhere. They all appreciate beauty, they all love life and nature; they all experience the same emotions. Therefore, we should not quarrel but just be tolerant of each other.’ German philosopher Martin Heidegger once called art ‘the revelation of the truth of being’. Do you believe art possesses the power to reveal important and universal truths, shared by all human beings? Or do you rather think it just expresses the truth of one particular community or way of life? ‘I certainly believe art can reveal universal truths. Although artists might create worlds and truths of their own, in the end their works all express a common and universal understanding of human existence, regardless of their particular background. Different artists might come from different countries, belong to different religions and paint in different styles, but the fundamental source of every piece art remains the same: basic, universal human emotion and a deep appreciation of the beauty of life.’ Photo: Ana A. Negru

Last question. You have already won many prizes and gained international recognition. Still, is there anything else you hope to achieve? ‘Before I die I want to hold an exhibition near Traian’s Column in Rome. In 1896 Romanian shepherd Badea Cârtan walked 42 days to reach this column, in order to experience the Latin descent of the Romanian nation with his own eyes. Just like Cârtan, I am inspired by the legends and the history of the Romanian people. For that reason, it is my wish that one day I could sit and paint in front of the same column he once visited.’

The place where you are born determines which faith you belong to and which tradition you ought to respect, but in the end human beings are the same everywhere. They all appreciate beauty, they all love life and nature; they all experience the same emotions.


Worldwide Focus Issue 3

Eastern Europe

Text by Brodie Robertson › in UK

Nicolae Diaconu: A Sculptor of Traditional Life As I walked through the vine covered doorway to the artist’s workshop, I honestly did not expect to see such beautifully detailed figurines all around the room. Indeed, I had heard of his work but had not yet seen it for myself. This man proudly showed off his walls, all of which were lined with newspaper articles, certificates of appreciation and photographs of the places he has seen and the people he has met during his worldwide travels. His pottery pieces, ceramics and icons filled the room and brought such an overwhelming artistic feel to his workshop. Who is this artist? This friendly and talented man is Nicolae Diaconu.

Inspiration and creation Diaconu is a well-known ceramic artist who creates clay figurines representing traditional Romanian people and animals. Diaconu grew up in the countryside of Tibanesti and is therefore familiar to rural people, their daily occupations and their working techniques. It is in his childhood memories that this special artist finds the inspiration for his most frequent creations. For example, he strives to represent a traditional Romanian man in his male figurines through their mimics, their faces, moustaches and longer hair. His creations include figurines of men sitting on tree trunks reading, women tending to their sheep, young shepherds, sheep and cows. But this artist can also reproduce a person through a photograph of their portrait. Indeed he has created a figurine representing a Romanian ex-primeminister, the well-known Romanian author Octavian Paler or just a man with an out-of-the-ordinary moustache. A reoccurring element in all of Diaconu’s characters is their traditional Romanian clothing which he proudly wears himself when

Photo: Ana A. Negru


participating in events in the country and even abroad. But this ceramic artist has a special secret; he only represents clothing on the figurines that he can reproduce himself. Indeed, he showed us a pair of traditional shoes called Opinci that he has made himself and that all of his characters wear on their feet to give all of them a rural touch. Diaconu, obviously passionate about his work, took us through to see some creations in the making. It was amazing to look at these beautiful figurines (not sculptures, as he kindly pointed out!) and feel what they would be expressing if they were living people. Indeed, the man sitting on a tree trunk looked

lost in his thoughts and an elderly woman walking with a cane seemed upset and despaired. But on the other hand, the young children were full of joy and enthusiasm whilst proudly holding their shepherd’s crook. It must be a very hard task to make an expressionless piece of clay transmit a feeling and yet, Diaconu and his team have definitely accomplished the desired effect. When asked what a sculptor needs to have in order to create such figurines, the craftsman answered that, ‘It takes time and patience to create anything hand-made’. He first began creating this type of figurines in 1979 in the town of Brasov, where he was studying the

art of transforming modest clay into delightful ceramic pieces at the Folk Art School. He separated himself from the Neolithic form of ceramics used by other craftsmen and created his own style. For example, the figurines are not held on a base but stand freely on their own two feet, making them even more lifelike. In doing so, he reactivated the folk art type, the technique of handworking figurines that was slowly disappearing.

Helping the local community Diaconu is a member of the traditional art academy and is also the president of the group of artisans in this area. He also


Worldwide Focus Issue 3

Photo: Ana A. Negru

Eastern Europe

collaborates with many local shops, trading and selling items. He regularly speaks to the city hall about having arts and crafts exhibitions or special events involving craftsmen from the region. Diaconu and his team create a wide variety of objects including toys, magnets and toy soldiers. And as they have managed to capture true Romanian culture, they also make souvenirs for tourists that can be found in various shops around town. Diaconu had a workshop in the Etnography Museum and has just started to work with children with special needs in his new workshop. Needless to say this man is doing his best to help the local community through his amazing work. When he travels to different countries, Diaconu presents his exhibition as the universe of the Romanian village and I think this title fits the characters perfectly, for as my room-mate Louise, aged 21, said, ‘These figurines are images you would expect to see when thinking of Romania’. There is no doubt that this talented man has truly captured, not only the aspect of a Romanian village and the people in it, but also our hearts thanks to his creation of traditional rural life out of clay.

It was amazing to look at these beautiful figurines and feel what they would be expressing if they were living people.

Photo: Ana A. Negru

Photo: Ana A. Negru


Emilia Tiganescu An Interview with a Romanian Traditional Dancer What influenced you to follow a course in popular dances? ‘Well, it was something unplanned. I mean, when I was nine years old I went with my family on holiday at the sea side where I saw a local show called Callatis. There I saw a number of Romanian traditional dances, which I utterly enjoyed! They gave me such a feeling of bliss that I started to dance along with them. When I came back home, I searched for months for an ensemble but had no luck. I stayed strong though and never lost my trust and desire and, finally, I found my current ensemble at the Kids’ Palace.’ That’s very interesting how you’ve never given up! Tell me, how long have you been practicing folk dances? ‘Hmm, I think for seven years or something.’ How is your instructor? Do you get along with him? ‘He is very likable and he loves working with kids, but sometimes he gets pissed off quickly and he starts to shout at us but without unwillingness. Although, this is a part of his job, if he didn’t do that we wouldn’t be this good!’

It seems that he is quite a guy! When you first came here, did you have to pass a test or something? ‘Paradoxically, I didn’t. Even though I thought that I would have to pass some test. Also, I thought I would take some introductory classes and after I would enter the actual ensemble but my suppositions were blown away. The instructor filled me in right away and I had my first rehearsal on my first day, which was a complete disaster. I had to catch all the steps while I was trying to synchronise my movements with my co-dancers, which was truly hard! But I didn’t give up and after the third rehearsal, the instructor was really proud of me.’

If you were to forsake dance in the near future, would you miss it? ‘Of course I would! This place here is my second home. It’s where I’ve grown up! If I could, I would never give up on it!’ Do you feel that dance has helped your understanding OF Romanian traditions and customs? ‘Yes, indeed. The dance is in our tradition, and the most remarkable thing is that it varies from a province to another, and I am willing to know all of them! Inside of me has grown a great respect for our culture and I feel honoured to transmit, through dance, our tradition wherever I go.’

How do the rehearsals work? ‘Sweat, effort, vexation, speed, passion and pirouettes. It is extremely hard, especially when the synchronisation is the key element of our dance.’ How do you feel when you dance? ‘It is inexplicable. There are thousands of emotions shaking inside of me, but it is the only moment when my mind shuts down and stops thinking about tomorrow. I am not stressed anymore and effectively I am set free. The dance makes me feel good in my skin.’ How do you keep the flame for dancing alive? ‘Passion, pure passion. It is the only thing I’ve never given up to. Probably, I will forsake it when I won’t have any choice, but until then I will continue dedicating myself to it. No matter how hard it is, it is the only thing that makes me happy right now.’ Has your partner ever had a crush on you over all these years? What is your relationship like with him? ‘I can’t see him as a possible boyfriend. Yes, it is true that through years there have been some feelings but we prefer to dedicate our common love to traditional dance.’ What is it like working as an ensemble? ‘It’s like a very large family, where we all help each other. Most of my true friends are a part of this group. Being together for so many years, it is impossible not to fall in love with them. They are free and young spirits and the most extraordinary thing is that we share the same passion. We are always together: as a dance group and as good friends.’

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Text by Andreea - Ioana Vihristencu › in ROMANIA

A while ago I interviewed Emilia Tiganescu (Mimi), who started folk dancing at an early age until it became one of her greatest achievements.


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Eastern Europe

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

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It is inexplicable. There are thousands of emotions shaking inside of me, but it is the only moment when my mind shuts down and stops thinking about tomorrow.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons



Worldwide Focus Issue 2

Eastern Europe

Text by Maria Lupu › in Romania

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Text by Maria Lupu › in ROMANIA

The Peasant Fortress of Prejmer A Fortified Background

The past is like a loving grandfather: when we are children, we sit on his lap and listen in wonder to his beautiful tales; later when we begin our life journey he guides us and tells us what mistakes must not be repeated. But the most important thing is that the past allows grandchildren to become the heir of their grandfather’s fortune. The first image that probably came to mind is that of a huge amount of money, gemstones or any other kind of material wealth. However, worth much more, the past actually granted a heritage of an identity, a vivid bond with our lineage and the chance to know that we are a tiny piece of this puzzle called history.


Worldwide Focus Issue 3

Eastern Europe

In the heart of Romania there is a charming realm named Land of Barsa, also nicknamed Little Transylvania, stretched on wooded high mountains with fertile plains and splendid meadows. There are the seven masterpieces of traditional architecture in Little Transylania, seven fortified churches that form the citadel of the Land of Barsa. One of them is the Peasant Fortress of Prejmer; the rural site is located in the central settlement areas and particularises the landscape.

Like we as humans have a DNA, a particular gene that makes us what we are, in the same way the church is for the village the DNA that gives an identity, a link, a settled place on the map.

protect the people during war. In the old times the church was a refuge for people; nowadays it seems that it is a shield that protects our background. Like a hen nestling its chickens, the church is the mother, the history, which the past awarded us. If the medieval man used to harbour in the church, modern man finds a sanctuary and a somewhat connection with his origins behind its thick walls. It’s the feeling that you are one of the rings that

forms this endless chain which is humanity. After World War II, the Saxons living in Romania started their exodus back to Germany and since 1989, when the country borders opened, only a few old Saxons remained, who seem to be the last remembrance of a mighty past. The local people from Prejmer are now the ones who have to preserve the patrimony and the inheritance

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Built in the 15th century by Saxon inhabitants, the church was designed to serve as a shelter to

Daniela Lintis, aged 46, is an inhabitant who has lived all her life in Prejmer. She states, ‘To my way of thinking, the church is a patrimony, a historical monument that we all have to be proud of. Movies have been filmed here and tourists come every year. Therefore, I think tourism will help the community prosper.’ Photo: Wikimedia Commons


Germans gave them. They are like Hansel and Gretel who were lost in the middle of the dark woods. The difference is that once they left, the Saxons also took away the ‘pebbles’ which would guide them towards the ‘right path’. It seems like they do not always acknowledge the importance and the value of this fortress. But this does not mean that they are completely unaware of the great historical potential that the fortress has.

On the other hand, Cristina Balog is the person who takes care of the church and ushers each tourist to the enchanting world of history. More than a guide, she’s the very voice of the church; in the same way God spoke through his prophets, the fortified church in Prejmer speaks through the medium of her experience of over 20 years. She confirms, ‘More than of historical value, the fortress is the calling card of Prejmer. Like we as humans have a DNA, a particular gene that makes us what we are, in the same way the church is for the village the DNA that gives an identity, a link, a settled place on the map. The merits of the region reside in the historic value of this monument. Built by Teutonic Knights, it is a UNESCO patrimony that the gentry, the inhabitants of the town ought to be conscious about. Not taking into consideration the worth of this legacy is like wearing a new pair of shoes with a grumpy face.’ It is a fact that it is in our human nature to pass over things which really count, such as our background. As a

general rule, we never know what we have until we lose it. But the point is that more than losing is discarding our past like a mere garment we do not need. Naked without a past, without a particular bond, we think foolishly that we can plan a future. At some point we realise that wrapped up in the veil of consciousness, an origin, a culture, the future begins to emerge by itself and we clearly see that past, present and future are the three rivers that flow in the same sea: the unity of mankind. On the whole, Prejmer is a village to definitely be proud of. Proud like a mighty oak that is deeply rooted in the fertile soil of glory. Now, what’s the difference between being proud of something and boasting loudly? People nowadays are used to boasting things like a new telephone, expensive car or a mansion, but if we ask them what they are proud of they don’t have a clue. The proud feeling fulfills the person, whilst boasting increases only the level of vanity. What about you? What’s the thing that you are genuinely proud of? What’s your fortified background?

An initiative by


Worldwide Focus  

Worldwide Focus is the online magazine for Voices of the World, an online journal for young writers and an initiative by Projects Abroad.

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