Last International Coffee Hour of semester features Togo

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An international student presented on the culture of Togo for International Coffee Hour at the International Student Center on Friday.

Manzamasso Hodjo, graduate student in economics, said Togo means “behind the river” and is made up of 40 tribes and five religions.

Hodjo showed pictures illustrating how different people in his community dress, from khaki school uniforms to elaborately patterned traditional clothing.

Hodjo said printed loincloths are popular as dowry for weddings.

“Dowry in some communities has a certain value, in other communities not really,” Hodjo said. “Sometimes animals [are dowry] as well: pigs, cattle and goats. In some communities you are allowed to do your marriage in church or in front of the mayor of your town where everybody can celebrate.”

Prior to getting married, couples and their families discuss the dowry. The families are also deeply entrenched in the marriage, Hodjo said.

“The idea behind this is that when you are in trouble in your couple, the families are directly involved,” Hodjo said. “If your wife leaves the house to go back home, the parents discuss with the man’s parents. ‘Our daughter came back home, what happened?’ And then the other family says, ‘Oh, we were not aware. Let us discuss with our son and see what happened.’ So it reduces, somehow, the number of divorces in our community.”

Hodjo also shared a video of a traditional fire dance, where certain people in the community dance on top of a fire, as well as the traditional fire wrestling that signifies a child’s transition into adulthood. The wresting is fair play, and the outcome of the match does not matter, Hodjo said.

Hodjo ended his presentation with Togo’s core values: respecting elders regardless of status, humility, caring for extended family, hospitality and using diversity as a strength.

Hodjo then answered questions from the audience. One person asked if women can own land in Togo.

“We don’t consider women,” Hodjo said. “Why? Our parents told us that women are supposed to go to marry. If you give them the land, they are going to give it to their husband, and their husbands are becoming landholders in your community, which is not something they would easily allow. But to me, to not consider women is a shame, and it’s changing. … We have to lead that change.”

Those who attended the coffee hour were welcome to try traditional food from Togo, like plantains and chickpeas.

Annie Kahler, senior in social work, said she likes learning about other cultures, as she works in the Education Abroad office.

“It was all really interesting,” Kahler said. “It was an engaging presentation, and he had a good sense of humor, which was fun. I liked learning about their core values and how they do marriage.”

Friday’s coffee hour was the last of the semester.

“This semester we’ve had Iraq, Malaysia, Kuwait, the Netherlands and Togo,” said Benedicta Akley-Quarshie, graduate student assistant for International Student and Scholar Services. “What I love about coffee hour is that it’s very culturally integral in that it encourages people from all over the world to integrate as they eat food from countries other than [America].”

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