Djembe and Donuts: My First Encounter with Hong Kong’s African Community

By Esther Ng

Although I have lived in Hong Kong for many years, I have only recently began to confront the borders that snake through the world I call ‘home’. The places I frequent and the people I socialise with have mostly been confined to certain quarters and communities within this city. I think to myself as I take the train to Sheung Wan, “This air that I have breathed for two decades… Who else breathes it with me?” 

The man sitting in front of the pillar turns around and extends his hand to shake mine. “I’m Kaze,” he smiles. He is a musician who plays the djembe – a type of drum from West Africa – and has come to teach us the basics today. He closes his eyes, gently lifts his chin and begins to slap the drum. He tells us that playing the djembe is a soulful experience. A few of us try to imitate his movements but end up clumsily off-beat. “Your hand must have authority,” Kaze laughingly scolds us, “And sit up straight!” 

Drumming lesson at African Kids Club. Photo: Esther Ng

After an hour of high energy drumming, we crowded eagerly around the lunch table to savour the Congolese food prepared by several women in the African community. There were sweet potato wedges, African donuts, kebab skewers, Soso (chicken tomato stew) and Pondu (cassava leaves and kidney beans). The women had prepared the food in their homes and had taken it all the way from Yuen Long to Sheung Wan. 

While I munched through the succulent African donuts, my thoughts returned to Kaze’s enthusiastic teachings. He explained the djembe was played at many occasions, from celebrating harvests and childbirth to mourning at funerals. Above all, Kaze stressed the therapeutic significance of the djembe. He often asked us how we felt after playing the drums. For him, the djembe released the “negative energy” from his mind. Playing the drums loudly energised him and playing it softly with his fingers relaxed him. Kaze also explained it is best to play the djembe with several other drummers so as to encourage harmony and build up energy together. 

Photo: Esther Ng

As I boarded the train afterwards, I thought about the culture and food that was shared to me so freely that afternoon. I wondered to myself, “Would my community share our culture, food and resources in the same way? Or has my community instead sustained those borders and allowed them to solidify?”


<<Djembe 和甜甜圈:認識香港的非洲群體>>

過去二十多年在香港的生活,我接觸的多是華人的群體,去的地方很少遇見少數族裔。最近我開始嘗試跨越族群之間的藩籬,參加一個非洲群體的文化交流日。在前往的途中,我心裡想:今天我能多認識這一群與我在同一天空下生活的鄰舍嗎?

坐在柱子前面的男人轉身過來,伸出手來握我的手。 「我是Kaze。」他笑著說。他是一位音樂家,演奏djembe (一種來自西非的鼓) , 這次是來教我們打鼓。他輕輕抬起頭,閉上眼睛,陶醉地奏起鼓來。他告訴我們玩djembe是一種靈性的體驗。我們試圖模仿他的動作,卻笨手笨腳。 「你們的手太軟了,加點權威!腰要挺起來!」Kaze笑著罵我們。

經過一個多小時劇烈的「擊鼓運動」後,我們興奮地擠在午餐桌旁,品嚐幾位非洲婦女準備的剛果食物。有紅薯楔子、非洲甜甜圈、烤肉串、Soso(雞肉燉番茄)和Pondu(木薯葉煮紅腰豆)。這些食物是婦女在家中準備的,並從元朗送到上環。

當我品嚐多汁的甜甜圈時,我想起Kaze剛才熱情的分享。他解釋非洲人會在許多節慶和場合奏非洲鼓,例如慶祝農耕收穫和分娩,或葬禮哀悼。不過,Kaze卻強調非洲鼓的治療意義。他經常問我們打鼓後的感受。對他個人來說,djembe幫助他紓解心裏的憂鬱壓力。他說用手心大力擊鼓可提振精神,輕力用手指拍打能使他放鬆。他也指出,非洲鼓最好與其他鼓手一起演奏,促進和諧,共同建立正能量。

在回程的路上,我想起剛才大家的共融。我想,我屬於的華人社群也能同樣自由地與別的社群分享自己的文化,食物和資源嗎?還是更鞏固自己的藩籬呢?

Editor’s note: Every month since May, Table of Two Cities has partnered with Africa Centre Hong Kong to showcase cultures and stories from the African and asylum seeker communities in Hong Kong. To join, please register your interest on Facebook or send us a message on the “Contact Us” section of the page.

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