VACAVILLE — Saia Reupena, wearing his traditional lava-lava, said his goal was to have the audience smile and have fun.
Judging by the reaction to his banter at the fourth annual Cultural Awareness Day at California State Prison Solano, he succeeded. The Samoan took the lead during a few Hawaiian/Pacific Islander ceremonial dances in front of hundreds of inmates gathered in the Level 2 gymnasium.
The day is designed to introduce the various cultures, religions and ethnicities that must live together in the prison. The goal is to foster cohesiveness and respect among the groups.
“I’m blessed to have come to a (prison) yard like this where they hold events (such as) this,” said inmate Michael Tupua, a Samoan and member of the Hawaiian/Pacific Islander dance group.
In addition to entertainment showcasing different cultures, tables were set up and manned by inmates who belong to the various groups such as Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Catholics, Rastafarians, Druid/Wiccan/Asatru Pagan, various Hispanic and Asian cultures, Native Americans and Hawaiian/Pacific Islanders.
Timothy Wayne Wilson sat at the back enjoying the entertainment – his toe tapped as he watched first a young rapper sing to the beat of various drums and then to Reupena and his group of dancers. Wilson participated last year at one of the booths, but came this year as an onlooker to see what he could learn. He said the day gives inmates the opportunity to become aware of the different cultures in prison.
“If I am aware of other cultures it helps me respect their beliefs,” he said.
Reupena said the event not only allows them to showcase their Pacific Islander cultures to others, but it serves as an introduction to those of that ancestry who might not know much about their roots.
“Our new generation that comes in, they don’t really know our language and customs,” he said.
It also serves to debunk some myths. Rastafarian Alten Sullivan, whose mother is a Southern Baptist and whose father is a Rastafarian from Jamaica, said some have come up to the table wanting to know about the “ganje” or marijuana. Not all Rastafarian groups smoke it, said Sullivan, who was wearing a hat and scarf in the red, yellow and green Rasta colors. His doesn’t.
“And even the groups that do use it, that’s not the focus,” he said.
Alex Diaz, a Cherokee, was one of a few representatives at the Native American table. They showcased several items important to Native American cultures, such as prayer feathers, ceremonial rattles, totems, medicine bags and various medicines such as desert and White Mountain sage and pitch – many with intricate beading in tribal colors.
Diaz said events like this where different cultures and religions are allowed to have voices and opinions helps in getting along.
“I didn’t think there were that many cultures in this prison,” he said.
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