Cambridge University students in cultural appropriation row over Africa-themed formal dinner event

Student leading criticism takes issue with terms associated with ‘Disney animated movie’

Aftab Ali
Student Editor
Thursday 12 May 2016 13:51
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The University of Cambridge, pictured
The University of Cambridge, pictured

The University of Cambridge has become involved in a cultural appropriation row after students organised an Africa-themed dinner using terms from Disney’s The Lion King.

The group from Queen’s College asked students in the invitation to the MCR Africa Formal if they would like to “travel far away,” adding: “Hakuna matata, here comes the solution.”

The invitation then highlighted a three-course dinner menu which would be offered on the night, and concluded: “Bring your rafikis along.”

In Swahili, ‘hakuna matata’ means ‘no worries’, while ‘rafiki’ translates into ‘friend’, two terms which became popular after the release of The Lion King in 1994.

Cambridge student, Alice Davidson, led the criticism in an online blog post in which she said the claims diners can “travel far away” meant that, in reality, they’d be “travelling to Cripps Dining Hall, which is incidentally only filled with portraits of white people.”

She also criticised the Facebook event’s “poorly chosen” cover photo of a tree in the Savannah at sunset, as well as the fact that only food from three countries was being offered “from a continent of over 50 nations.”

She further added that the term “hakuna matata” reads “something along the lines of Africa = Disney animated movie,” and wrote: “Perhaps if the initiative had come from members of the African Society of Cambridge University (ASCU) themselves, who could then determine the menu and terms of cultural exchange rather than being invited as a token afterthought.

“In this sense, the Africa themed formal is most definitely cultural appropriation, but there are several ways this could have been avoided.”

The ASCU was then reportedly criticised by students who took to social media to question why the society was not involved in planning of the event.

According to The Telegraph, though, ASCU president, Halimatou Hima, confirmed Queen’s College had tried to work with them on the event, but that communications had “broken down” with the ASCU eventually withdrawing its support.

The Cambridge News reports that, in a statement, Ms Hima described how, given the “historical (and ongoing) prejudices” that have “defined interactions with the African continent and its peoples, I decided, as president of ASCU, it would be in our society’s best interest to withdraw.”

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A member of ASCU, however, told The Tab the response has been “a little over-dramatic” which “really isn’t an enormous issue.”

The Independent has contacted the university for comment. However, several media reports have stated both the institution and Queen’s College have declined to do so.

In March, students at the university became embroiled in a similar row after leaders at a Pembroke College sparked debate over a decision to cancel an event themed ‘Around the World In 80 Days’ for fear it could cause offence.

Similarly, the University of Oxford sparked a race row of its own in November last year after two colleges outlined plans to hold end-of-year balls centered around the themes of ‘New Orleans’ and ‘The 1920s’.

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