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Kerr students catch glimpse of life in southern Africa

| Tuesday, Nov. 26, 2013, 7:15 p.m.
Jan Pakler | for The Herald
African Princess Wabei from Barotseland visited second graders at Kerr Elementary School teaching songs, dances and her culture.
Jan Pakler | for The Herald
Kerr Elementary School students watch a video on the wetlands and annual floods in southern Africa focusing on the mass migration of the people and animals during a visit from African Princess Wabei.

It wasn't Kate Middleton, but Kerr Elementary students met a real-life royal princess last week.

Second-graders hosted Princess Wabei of Barotseland, a region of Zambia in southern Africa.

“My cousin is the king,” she told the wide-eyed students, who looked on as the princess described life in the flood plain of the Zambezi River.

“All sorts of animals live by the river,” said Princess Wabei, pulling stuffed toys from a bag to illustrate how elephants, lions and birds live in harmony.

“We don't put our animals in a zoo,” she said. “There could be an elephant right outside your door. It's incredible that such a huge animal walks with such a soft shoe.”

With each stuffed animal she pulled from the bag, the princess led the students in mimicking the roars and tweets of each one.

Dressed in a gold-trimmed blue gown, she captivated them with her storytelling, explaining how “an alligator will never eat a hen because they both lay eggs.

“That makes them brothers and sisters,” she said.

The focus of her presentation highlighted the ritual of mass migration of people and animals during the annual floods of Barotseland.

Each year in February, more than 2 million villagers paddle along water highways to higher land for safekeeping.

“It is a two-week journey that all starts with a five-hour drum beat, followed by poets who sing praise to the king,” she said.

Nine royal barges with 200 paddlers make their way first through the flooded rice and papyrus fields.

“How do you get back to the house that flooded?” asked student Chloe Kim.

Classmate Nathan Stepp wanted to know if anyone used speed boats to make the trek quicker.

“Do you bring the animals?” asked Eileen Healy.

Princess Wabei explained the migration is necessary because the region is inundated with rain and that moving to higher ground is the only way to survive.

“When we come back in six months, we build a new house,” she said.

Librarian Kathy Hoel arranged the assembly in hope of giving students a glimpse of another culture.

“We can't take them there, so we are bringing the world to them,” she said. “It opens their eyes, and this one has been a success. The kids are mesmerized.”

Sydney Schutzman, 8, said she liked most the story of the alligator and the hen.

“I thought it was cool how the hen explained that they are all family,” she said.

Tawnya Panizzi is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-782-2121, ext. 2 or tpanizzi@tribweb.com.

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