Africa in Our Lives: Edward L. Powe

While Edward Powe’s interest in Africa and the tropical world dates back to his graduate studies, creative endeavors like the development of his NGO and promotion of a Zulu board game suggest his interest does not run dry.

“Africa is a huge continent that is home to a plethora of interesting peoples, languages, and cultures.” – Powe (Photo courtesy of Edward Powe)

Hometown: Paterson, New Jersey
Field of study:  Ph.D. in African Languages & Literature (with specialization in Hausa oral literature) from UW-Madison; Masters in Linguistics with minor in Arabic (Indiana University – Bloomington); B.A. (with distinction) in Spanish (minor in Portuguese) from University of New Mexico -Albuquerque

What brought you to Madison?

At the time, UW-Madison was the only university in the U.S. to offer a PhD in African Languages & Literature.

What inspired your interest in Africa?

Very little was taught about Africa in the schools I attended and, being a Black American, I was always interested in “the land of my ancestors.”

Tell us a bit about your research interests:

Although I am very much interested in Africa, that interest is not limited to Africa per se. Indeed, I am interested in the entire tropical world – that is, the region lying between the tropics of Cancer and Capricorn. I have traveled to many places in that zone to conduct research and have studied 16 different languages resulting in over 110 publications (for which this archive is not yet updated:, half of which can be borrowed from UW’s Memorial Library. Lately I have been working on two intended publications: Three Countries Called Guinea  and The Lore of the Portuguese Speaking World; but that project has been interrupted because I recently have been contracted to work on a KiSwahili Literacy project with Curriculum Concepts International (CCI), a project to which I am dedicating most of my time.

What was the motivation behind the creation of your board game, and (generally) how is it played?

Powe stands with winners of an umlabalba tournament sponsored by the BLAC Foundation in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea. (Photo courtesy of Edward Powe)

Having no legal heirs, I formed an NGO called Black Languages Arts & Culture (for which see  which aims at fortifying the body, mind, and spirit of the communities we service. Capoeira was chosen to develop the body and spirit, whereas the  Zulu board game  called “umlabalaba” was chosen to sharpen the minds of our constituency. Umlabalaba, in essence, is quite similar to tic tac toe; but is as complex as chess. Indeed, the game is often referred to as Zulu Chess and we have held many tournaments in various countries to date.\

What is the BLAC foundation?

The Black Languages, Arts and Culture Foundation (BLAC FOUNDATION) was founded to create a greater awareness of the history and rich cultural heritage of Black peoples of the world by:

  • encouraging a genuine and scholarly interest in Black Languages, Arts and Culture;
  • giving interested parties (Black Scholars in particular) an opportunity to conduct research (both in the US and overseas) in areas of interest to the Foundation;
  • forming a cadre of ranked blacfellows, who can (and hopefully will) acquire and disseminate quality knowledge in the Foundation’s area of interest;
  • helping to publish new materials (generated by blacfellows and possibly others) dealing with the Black experience from a Black perspective;
  • disseminating selected Foundation materials to the general public and /or interested parties at cost; and
  • matching willing donors with Black scholars, artists, musicians, and others in need of funding.

In short, the BLAC Foundation seeks to affirm BLACK HUMANITY and promote a psychic conversion that creates networks and groups that foster love, care and concern for and within black communities around the world. Just as the Chinese Republican period (1912-1948) heralded native fighting techniques as the means of rebuilding the spirits and the bodies of its citizens who were faced with the onslaught o Western athletics, so the BLAC Foundation has chosen Capoeira and Umlabalaba to help develop the bodies, minds, and spirit of Black citizenry.

What advice do you have for students interested in studying Africa?

Africa is a huge continent that is home to a plethora of interesting peoples, languages, and cultures. My advice is to select a country  of interest (there are some 54 to choose from), study a language from that area to enable you  to communicate effectively with the local populace, and then spend some time there (at least three months) to get a feel for the place. If you like it you can pursue your interests further in that area, and if not you can choose another location. In either case you will have benefited immensely by the experience. .

Where is your favorite place to travel and why?

It is hard to respond to this question because each place offers different experiences and opportunities. My favorite place in Africa thus far has been Madagascar because I found it to be exotic. But my favorite place in the tropical world is still Colombia where I was a Peace Corps Volunteer.

Tell us a bit about your upcoming travel:

I had been planning a trip to Southern Africa (South Africa, Namibia, and Mozambique) for Christmas break, but have postponed that trip to travel instead  to NYC to continue work on CCI’s Swahili literacy project.  In mid- August 2016, however, I will be embarking on a two year trip to the tropics. The first year will be spent in India and points east; whereas the second year will take in Latin America and the Caribbean. During the two year period I will be taking many photos, filming, and collecting information for  The BLAC Foundation and for future Dan Aiki Publications titles.

Profile produced by Meagan Doll.

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