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Wantagh program honors African heritage through words, dance

Lydia Matabi Wilson, right, of East Meadow, founder

Lydia Matabi Wilson, right, of East Meadow, founder of the Uganda Cultural Art Network, presents an African cultural experience featuring interactive storytelling, music and dance in Wantagh on Sunday, Feb. 7, 2016. Credit: Ed Betz

A lighthearted, heroic tale of a Ugandan mother rescuing her daughter from a guerrilla fighter, Swahilian songs passed down through the generations and traditional African dances helped about a dozen children connect with their heritage Sunday.

“Some of the children here haven’t met anyone from Africa before, so I wanted them to learn about different cultures,” said Lydia Matabi Wilson, founder of the Uganda Cultural Art Network.

The organization hosted the event at the Theodore Roosevelt Nature Center at Jones Beach.

Wilson told the story of Nsangi, a young Ugandan girl who was kidnapped by a guerrilla after the man gained entrance to the home by perfecting a song the mother and daughter used to communicate.

Every day, the guerrilla carefully listened to how her mother would sing “one day when you get older, you can come with me,” in Swahili. It signaled when Nsangi was to unlock the door for her mother.

The mother, who had been out all day picking food from the trees and land, came home one day to find her daughter missing. Scared and worried, she asked the chief for help.

Eventually, the guerrilla fighter was found in the forest and the girl was returned to her mother.

Wilson, a native of Uganda, said her grandfather used to sit at night and recite folklore of Africa when she was younger.

The Republic of Uganda is a country in East Africa with a population of more than 35 million people. It is landlocked by the Democratic Republic of the Congo, South Sudan, Kenya, Tanzania and Rwanda. Official languages include English and Swahili, a trade language mixed with Arabic, Indian and Hebrew.

Uganda is home to Lake Victoria, the second-largest freshwater lake in the world.

During Sunday’s program, children dressed in Ugandan garb and learned traditional, rhythmic dances to African drums and a complementary instrument made from a pumpkin.

East Meadow resident Christopher Tulley, 26, played an unsuspecting prince in one of the tales.

“I want people to learn about cultures beyond where they were born,” Tulley said. “People can learn from others and apply it to their lives.”

He added, “It will give people a different point of view.”

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