The lights dimmed as students and guests took their seats for the evening. Chatter filled the room like the smells from the cuisine from the continents of different countries. UO Africa Night — the largest cultural event on campus — was about to begin.

The annual UO Africa Night offers cultural education and a showcase of the school’s diversity through student performances. This year, the free event was held at the ERB Memorial Union at 6 p.m. on Saturday.

The audience was treated to a colorful display of dancing, acrobatics and balancing acts. After completing an intense session of flips and acrobatics, one group of three performers lifted each other to the ceiling in a display of strength that had the crowd erupt in applause. Later, the entire room held its breath as a performer balanced himself headfirst on a tower of chairs stacked to the ceiling.

“I think it’s great that our school puts on a show that lets us see the talent within the student body,” said first year student Sydney Kobak, majoring in human physiology. “Without something like this we wouldn’t be able to see it.”

Sophie Patterson shares a similar sentiment as Kobak. She works to coordinate scholarships with the International Cultural Service Program (ICSP), which provides tuition scholarships to students across the world who could otherwise not attend UO. Patterson explained that she came to watch her students tonight and was amazed by their performances. In addition, she believes that the event brings out students rich traditions from their home countries: “Africa Night shows that UO is more diverse than many students think it is,” she said.

Africa Night is not all about showcasing talent; it emphasizes education as well.

“Africa Night is a great opportunity to learn about Africa in a way that promotes and tells all of the beautiful things in the culture,” said African Student Association Director Ellen Bakira, “There are so many great things about the continent that are often overlooked.”

Bakira explained that Africa is often given negative stereotypes by the media and that this event works to counter those ideas. “We work to show that we are more than the stereotype of children starving and extreme poverty,” she said.  

In addition to cultural education, Africa Night acted as a venue to raise awareness about environmental sustainability and conservation; the continent is home to a variety of endangered species whose populations are threatened by global crises such as poaching and habitat loss. One endangered animal made an appearance — Pancake the Cheetah and her canine companion Dayo. Pancake was born into captivity at a Wildlife Safari in Winston, Oregon. Pancake and Dayo travel to schools, businesses and birthday parties.

Bakira explained that the support from ASUO was crucial the success of the evening.“We are so thankful that ASUO continues to fund our night which makes it possible for us to host such a large event each year,” she said. “The audience gets to go outside their borders and see how other cultures experience life.”

Correction: Patterson’s quote was updated for clarity