Being new at St. John’s, I was delighted to have been invited last week to a talk by Dr. Alexis Tengan, the first in a series of colloquia organized by Dr. Castillo-Coronado. We were greeted by a number of exquisite artifacts lying solemnly on an African-themed green and white cloth on the table. What marvel to see those “out of this world” artifacts most of which were from Dr. Tengan’s native Ghana: human-shaped wood carvings, animal figurines, a large round spiked jar, and the like. Dr. Tengan gave us an idea of their original context by talking about a worldview in which medicine, art, and religion are all integrated. Each item tells a story of the human person’s relation to nature, of the wisdom of communities passed on from one generation to the next, and of the things their makers and owners valued. Now while these material expressions of a distinct form of life carry so much meaning, it is lamentable that, as Dr. Tengan explained, their owners have had to give them up due to the pressures from their newly adopted religion so that they are either destroyed or end up in the black market. Yet this is not the greatest tragedy according to Dr. Tengan: it is rather that we are nowadays unable to talk about them and the traditional practices associated with them in a positive way.
The discussion that followed was as engaging and stimulating as the talk itself. It was a happy occasion for me to experience being part of a learning community where the teachers are also ready to share their knowledge and expertise with their colleagues. It was a pity that while many of those present still had questions and/or insights to share, most of us had to get back to work. So while I was rushing to my classroom, I still had the image of the artifacts in my mind and I was at the same time already wondering what the next talk would be about.
April Capili – High School Philosophy, Religion and TOK teacher