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Professor Leads Group to Africa for Study Abroad This Summer

Published: April 1, 2009

As part of a three-unit course titled “The Cultures of African Peoples,” Africana Studies’ Ikaweba Bunting returns this summer to the continent where he lived for 28 years.

Bunting, who grew up in Compton, joined the university in 2006. He will lead a dozen CSULB students to Tanzania and the island of Zanzibar in a four-week study abroad course. “It supports Africana Studies’ efforts to expand its focus on Africa,” said Bunting. “It presents students with the opportunity to study the global and transnational cultural dynamics of the contemporary African world from a local African-based perspective.”

To Bunting, all of Africa is his learning community. Field trips will include Dar Es Salaam and its university, the National Museum, the House of Culture, the Village Museum, DTV, the Mbezi Beach Carvers and the Tinga Tinga Painters. There will be a look at Zanzibar’s slave forts, the Institute of Culture and Art in Bagamoyo, Arusha’s Ngorongoro Crater, the Serengeti, Olduvai Gorge and the Great Rift Valley (Kisumu-Nairobi-Arusha).

Also on the to-do list are a visit to the U.N. International Tribunal on Genocide and War Crimes and the East African Parliament. Students will participate in a community support and development project with non-governmental organizations concerned with HIV-AIDS, gender equity and poverty eradication.

Participants will live and work with people from different cultural groups in East Africa. Bunting hopes the students’ immersion in African cultural and social institutions will enhance their understanding and sensitivity to cultural diversity. “In this way, it will substantiate their experience and facilitate the development of a broad-based knowledge of the cultural landscape of Africa,” he said. The course will present the similarities and differences in cultural expression by examining different histories, livelihood patterns and social organizations. This includes the impact of globalization and the dynamics of the urban-rural cultural dichotomy of African societies.

Bunting hopes his students learn a little tolerance along the way. “There will be times when the students will find themselves living with life’s bare essentials,” he said. “I hope they emerge from that with a deeper appreciation of what they have and with the idea that they may not need as much. I want them to gain a global perspective.”

Engaging with the people and their culture is Bunting’s top priority. “I hope our students get a sense of the country,” he explained. “In an increasingly globalized world, being able to think outside a cultural box can be invaluable. The students will see things that embrace them and things that antagonize them. When you engage another culture a learning process begins that continues when you reflect. It resonates when you return to your home environment. It can be as simple as learning to bathe using a bucket of water.”

Photo courtesy of Ikaweba Bunting
Ikaweba Bunting (front row, left) stands next to the first First Lady of Tanzania, Maria Nyerere, and students from last year’s study abroad course.

There have been surprises along the way. “I observed a contrast between students with a European heritage who generally seemed more comfortable in Africa than some of the African American students,” he said. “It may have to do with the idea or attitude of global entitlement on the one hand and that of constricted lived experience on the other hand. In light of that constricted experience, African Americans may construct an ideal image of Africa to nurture their cultural integrity in America. This often conflicts with what they see during that first encounter with Africa. African Americans were more intense and reflexive as that reality conflicts with the ideal; it affects the construction of their identity. I’m interested in the social and cultural dynamics of this. And how the African experience can help them construct a more realistic and comfortable sense of their African identity, that gives them the freedom and power to enjoy themselves as human beings anywhere on the planet.”

Bunting is an expert in the development of nation states. He left America in 1973 after a career as one of the first African Americans to work as a sound technician in Hollywood to become involved with “The Pan African Skills Project” that promoted visits by African Americans with skills to East Africa to share their abilities then spent 28 years up to 2002 in Africa and Europe. Most of that time was spent in East Africa with special emphasis on Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya, Rwanda, Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo. He married there and raised a family, living in Tanzania, Kenya and Britain. Within five months, he helped the Tanzanian government build the nation’s first sound studio.

He earned his B.S. in psychology from Loyola Marymount University and his Ph.D. in development studies from the University of Wales in 1998 where he was the first African American to earn a doctorate. He also completed course work for a master’s in television production at Columbia College.

Bunting wants to make sure his students travel lightly, have an open mind, are ready to learn and ready to have a life altering experience.

“More than anything, I want students to enjoy themselves and the people of Africa,” he said. “I remember one student who needed reassurance but not about safety. He wanted to be reassured that he would have fun and I told him, most definitely!”