Friday, June 19, 2009

Trying to Preserve the Uli Cultural Practice

June 16-18, 2009: For the last two days I have been traveling in the southeast states of Enugu and Anambra to the villages of Enugwu-Inyi and Nkwelle-Ogidi to meet with the few traditional practitioners of an Igbo cultural practice called Uli who were being trained under a USG grant by a renowned Igbo professor, artist, and academic, who I consider an Uli activist, to preserve Uli designs through crafts from jewelry to pottery to clothes. I actually bought a set of placemats with Uli designs from CAD, hand painted pottery, and a pair of earrings. Traditionally Uli symbols were painted on the body in place of clothes or on huts (homes) or shrines, but modern times have put pressure to abandon these wonderful ways. I met and had the opportunity to have conversations with the most fantastic women in their 60s-80s who are the last of their kind trying to hold on to the ways of the past that their mothers and grandmothers taught regarding Uli. Although many of them no longer know what the individual Uli symbols mean, except to say that their spirits tell them what to paint, they were all beautiful women (one claimed she was old-age beautiful!), with wonderful spirits and full of life. They all told me they were renewed by the training and the possibility of the economic empowerment that selling crafts would bring them. With this grant, the USG has not only given these women hope, but also helped in transforming their lives. This means a lot and makes me not only pleased that the U.S. Mission is involved in projects like this, but that the giving nature of the American people can be seen through the eyes of these incredible women!