Visitors to the inaugural Multi-Cultural Festival at the Greenwell Springs Regional Library were greeted Saturday by a Native American tepee adorned with a giant American eagle painted on its canvas side.
Charles and Ethie Manuel, of Baton Rouge, were so intrigued they chatted with its owner, Tom “Strong Buffalo” Varnado, for a few minutes and then stooped over to enter its shady, circular interior.
“I thought it was really neat,” Ethie Manuel said after seeing the inside with its jumble of furs, blankets and iron cooking utensils. “I’ve seen them on TV but never thought I’d actually get in one.”
“You’d have to be tough - and little to live in one,” Charles Manuel said with a laugh, straightening up after getting out of the 16-foot-wide tepee and into the bright sunshine. “It’s fantastic. It’s bigger than I thought it would be.”
The Manuels were just two of several hundred area residents who crowded into the pleasantly air-conditioned library’s main meeting room for the inaugural event, hosted by the library staff.
Nineteen tables displayed items and information from more than a dozen cultures and countries and visitors got to eat a wide variety of food from around the world.
Librarian Geralyn Davis said she and the staff were very pleased with the turnout from both the public as well as the participants, many of whom were dressed in “native” outfits from their African, Asian or European cultures.
“We wanted to bring in the various cultures of the community to gather around food and music, and it is an enormous success,” Davis said. “We’ll definitely make it an annual event.”
The scene really was international with kimono-robed Japanese women mingling with sari-draped Indian women, African men in traditional shirts and one lone Irishman, Dan Priddy, in his plaid kilt at the Baton Rouge Irish Club table.
“We’re here to get the Irish culture out there,” Priddy said as he handed out brochures publicizing the club’s annual film festival.
Information about the cultures of Italy, Turkey, Nigeria, Japan, Vietnam and Ethiopia was on display along with that of Louisiana’s own French-Acadian - Cajun - people. Several dance groups performed and music from various cultures emanated from several tables.
Barbara Franklin, a Hurricane Katrina evacuee from New Orleans, was displaying her hand-made “rag” dolls that ranged in various skin colors from “jet black to coffee brown to light brown,” she said, to reflect the complexions of African Americans.
“This is just fascinating,” Franklin said, as people stopped to view her art. “I think this is a big success with all the different nationalities here.”
Pinki Diwan and some Indian Americans were displaying brass idols, currency and clothing from their home country and selling Indian-recipe cookbooks for a charity benefiting a shelter for battered women.
“We’re trying to share our culture and cuisine and show the next generation how we can benefit and learn from each other,” Diwan said.
Ergun Yilmaz was hosting the Turkish Raindrop House table and passing out tasty - and spicy - rice snacks and sweet pastries. “A lot of people are tasting the food - and they like it,” he said.
Back outside, Tom “Strong Buffalo” Varnado was showing the crowd his collection of Indian arrowheads, bows and arrows and other accoutrements of Native American culture.
“I have Native Americans in my heritage and I’m very interested in this,” said Esclamonda Fisher, who brought her four nephews, Tasman Hayes, 11, and his brothers Ja’, 7; Gabriel, 5; and Prince, 5.
“The tepee is pretty cool,” added Tasman Hayes. “I saw him at our school once.”