Folk Art PA
Artists

Victoria Angelo and Marta Sam

Acholi (African) Song and Dance
(Nurturing Well-being and Health)

The ancestral area of Acholi is the borderland between southern Sudan and northern Uganda. Both Victoria and Marta learned song and dance at traditional village gatherings when they were children. They continue their tradition because it communicates strong values, teaches their unique history, and keeps them physically fit. Both women admit that dancing is the best cure for back pain. Acholi people do not sing or dance alone, and it is used by an entire communicate to both celebrate and mourn. Victoria says, "When people are married, we dance. When someone dies, we dance."

Marta and Victoria use their traditional knowledge on a daily basis in Erie at St. Martin Early Learning Center, where they work with infants and toddlers. They find that young children all love to sing and dance, not only does it build their language and motor skills, it builds classroom camaraderie. They also use traditional songs to calm children down. The Acholi have very few generic lullabies. Instead, they draw from a veritable pharmacology of songs to address particular needs; there are songs to soothe a feverish baby, other songs to ease stomach pain, and others to comfort a baby whose mother is away.

Both Victoria Angelo and Marta Sam work at St. Martin's Early Childhood Center as Assistant Group Supervisors. Before coming to the US to escape the devastation of civil war in their homeland, both women had occupations in health and childcare. Between them they have 13 children. Each has been dancing for over 30 years.

The Acholi tribe originates in Southern Sudan, along the border of northern Uganda.  Acholi people are a part of the Nilotic language group.  While they have some similarities with the Luo of western Kenya and Uganda, the Acholi have their own language, songs, dress, dances, and customs.  Sudan has experienced a number of wars and conflicts since the 1950s that continue today, so many of the Acholi have fled.  While Angelo and Sam currently have only a small community of refugees in Erie, they see that they must keep these traditions alive for their daughters and their families because they are concerned that those still in Africa are unable to continue the traditions.  

Marta Sam was born in Torat, in southern Sudan.  There she attended elementary and high school.  After high school she worked as a secretary at the town council office.  She got married and had five children.  Her husband was killed in the second civil war and she escaped to Egypt.  She waited in Egypt for two years where she worked as a nanny for an Egyptian family.  She has lived in Erie since 2002.  She has taught several 6-week courses in Acholi dance for the general public at the Erie Art Museum.  She currently works at St. Martin’s Early Childhood Center.  She is an Assistant Group Supervisor and works with preschool children.  She teaches the students and her co-workers African children’s songs, dances, and games in Acholi and Arabic.  She received her American citizenship in the spring of 2008.

Victoria Angelo was born in Uganda, where she attended primary school.  Because of the conflict of Idi Amin (Uganda’s military dictator from 1971-1979 known for human rights abuses, ethnic persecution, and political corruption), she moved with her family to Sudan, where she attended secondary school.  She graduated in 1985, got married, and worked as a sports coach.  She then worked at a clinic funded by Save the Children and the Canadian Salvation Fund.  She completed three years towards a bachelor’s in business administration, before she fled to Egypt where she lived with her family for three years until her immigration to the United States.  She has lived in Erie since 2003.  She has eight children.  She has taught several 6-week courses in Acholi dance for the general public at the Erie Art Museum.  She currently works at St. Martin’s Early Childhood Center.  She is an Assistant Group Supervisor and works with preschool children.  She teaches them and her co-workers African children’s songs, dances, and games in Musoga, Acholi, English, and Arabic.