Oyé Palaver Hut brings African culture, conflict resolution east of the river

For almost 30 years, Vera Oyé Yaa-Anna has led arts programs for children living in every neighborhood in the district. But she expressed an affinity for black youth living east of the Anacostia River who took her hands-on classes in African cuisine, arts and culture.

As young people continue to emerge from a period of pandemic and quarantine that has exacerbated trauma, Yaa-Anna has focused more on conflict resolution and self-expression with the palaver hut, a western tradition. -African that compels individuals to discuss their problems and come to a mutually beneficial solution.

“When we have a situation, you have to discuss things. We have to be able to find the problem, ”said Yaa-Anna, founder and executive producer of Oyé Palaver Hut, a cultural arts organization that prioritizes health and wellness through storytelling and the arts. culinary.

Yaa-Anna, originally from Liberia and known as Aunt Oyé, started Oyé Palaver Hut as a family-owned theater company in Los Angeles upon arriving in the United States in 1993. Years later, after moving to the district, Oyé Palaver Hut has gone on to provide both entertainment and a program that exposes children to various African cultures.

The non-profit organization currently offers year-round programming to 75 young people, many of whom live in Woodland Terrace in the South East.

The inspiration for the conflict resolution part of the programming, Yaa-Anna said, arose out of a desire to help students learn to share the microphone and other materials they requested during the weekly activities with Oyé Palaver. Hut.

“A child gets up and starts explaining how he feels and comes up with solutions,” she said. “You have to remember that children are thinkers. We need to give them the tools to make their environment safe for learning.

Earlier this year, the DC Policy Center collected data showing that isolation and increased economic hardship during the pandemic has further prepared young people for socio-emotional challenges. In anticipation of months of unresolved trauma pouring into the classroom, Yaa-Anna attended workshops on trauma-informed education.

The palaver hut, a circular clay structure hence its name, the Oye palaver hut, served as a place of frequentation and dialogue in West African villages in the 18th and 19th centuries. Among many West Africans today, especially those who live in Liberia, the word palaver colloquially refers to a petty quarrel or disagreement.

Other aspects of West African culture Yaa-Anna shows that young people involve food and folklore. Cooking demonstrations expose students to different cultures and information about their dietary importance.

At any time, Yaa-Anna can also be found engaging her young audience with a story as veteran West African drummer Joe Ngwa sets the mood with djembe vibes.

In recent years, Yaa-Anna has distributed questions about West Africa and the district while arranging trips to Mr. Henry’s restaurant along Pennsylvania Avenue in the southeast. The trivia questions have since been converted into Yaa-Anna flashcards.

Charmaine Jackson, a supervisor at the Exodus Treatment Center in the Southeast, said Yaa-Anna’s offerings have broadened the horizons of children who participate in her programs during the school year and summer.

Jackson said Yaa-Anna had inspired her to start a garbage collection program that has become increasingly popular among young people in the community.

“Some of our kids think the Southeast is the world,” Jackson said. “Aunt Oyé has been a great asset to our program and our children love her to death. The most valuable lesson she has taught our children is to value yourself. It doesn’t matter where you are from. It’s about where you are going.

Photo by Sam PK Collins

Katy F. Molnar