Gregory Katz, Published January 21 2009
World celebrates Obama’s inauguration
From Kenya and Indonesia, where Barack Obama has family ties, to Asia, Europe, Africa and Latin America, Obama’s inauguration sparked a volcanic explosion of hope for better days ahead.
The ascendancy of the first African-American to the presidency of the United States was heralded as marking a new era of tolerance and possibility.
Nelson Mandela, the former South African president who also inspired millions, sent a letter to Obama on his inauguration day.
“Your election to this high office has inspired people as few other events in recent times have done,” Mandela wrote. “Amongst many around the world a sense of hopelessness had set in as so many problems remain unresolved and seemingly incapable of being resolved. You, Mister President, have brought a new voice of hope that these problems can be addressed and that we can in fact change the world and make of it a better place.”
The anti-apartheid icon’s sentiment was echoed in much of the world.
Alex Andrade, a 24-year-old unemployed black Brazilian, said Obama’s rise has inspired Brazil’s poor.
“Blacks face so much discrimination here,” he said, standing outside the Cantagalo slum, where ramshackle shacks line steep hills in Rio de Janeiro. “Now with a black man in charge of such an important country, it might help decrease the racism in Brazil.”
In Kenya, traditional dancers performed, feasts were held and movie screens were erected so neighbors could join together for the moment, only a year after their own elections were marred by horrific ethnic violence.
“Our election in Kenya really had problems with ethnicity ... America has shown that this doesn’t have to be that big a problem,” said Dr. Joseph Osoo, who runs a clinic in one of Kenya’s biggest slums.
“Kenyans are very happy because their son is going to be the leader of America,” he said.
In the village of Kogelo in western Kenya, where many of Obama’s Kenyan relatives live, women dressed in colorful printed cloths performed traditional dances to the rhythms of cowhide drums.
An Irish village called Moneygall covered itself in red, white and blue bunting Tuesday in honor of Obama’s connections, via a great-great-great grandfather named Fulmouth Kearney who emigrated to the United States in 1850.
They also baked a special round fruitcake, locally called a “brack,” to sell for the occasion – with Obama’s picture on the wrapping.
In the South American country of Guyana, dozens of work sites closed at noon to let employees watch the inauguration.
There was also jubilation in the Colombian town of Puerto Tejada, where sugarcane-cutting descendants of African slaves had the day off and watched the Washington proceedings on a giant screen.
“The people here see themselves represented in Obama,” Mayor Elver Montano said.
In Peru’s capital of Lima, a dozen faith healers from Peru, Brazil, Mexico and Bolivia danced during the inauguration. Stomping their feet, shaking rattles and blowing smoke, they chanted Obama’s name while throwing flower petals and coca leaves at his photograph.
The ancient Andean ritual is known as Jatun Sonjo, or “Big Heart” in the Quechua language, explained shaman Juan Osco.
In Sweden, African-American singer Cyndee Peters was hosting a “A Gala for Obama,” featuring dozens of Swedish soul, jazz, hip-hop, gospel, folk and blues artists.
“Obama fever is all over the whole world,” said Peters, 62, who grew up in North Carolina and New York. “What he stands for needs to be celebrated.”
In London, Americans could get free admission to Madame Tussaud’s waxworks to see the new figure of Obama, and parties were scheduled in dozens of venues, from ritzy hotels to local sports bars.
The group Democrats Abroad held a swanky sold-out event at London’s Royal Lancaster Hotel and American students at Cambridge University took part in a luau inspired by Obama’s Hawaiian heritage.
In the Indonesian capital of Jakarta, where Obama spent four years as a young boy, students from his former school swayed and spun in bright, traditional costumes representing Indonesia’s ethnically diverse tropical islands.
Old classmates gathered at the Menteng 1 elementary school to watch the once-chubby kid they remember as Barry.
“I’m proud that the next president is someone who I have shared time with,” said Rully Dasaad, a fellow Boy Scout with Obama. “It was a crucial time for children our age, it is when we learned tolerance, sharing, pluralism, acceptance and respect of difference in cultures and religions.”