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The Post-Bulletin, Austin MN
Childhood memories came to life on Saturday, when Swiss ethnologist and anthropologist Conradin Perner gave a lecture in Austin, and people in our region came to get re-acquainted with a man they had not seen since their childhood.
More than 100 people gathered at Our Savior’s Lutheran Church in Austin to listen to Perner’s lecture, "A Life Without Borders: How a Swiss mountain-boy turned into a leopard in the African Savannah.
Perner was visiting southeastern Minnesota, where he spoke at Winona State University campuses in Winona and Rochester as part of a lecture series.
According to the biographical information provided by WSU, Perner spent almost 30 years living in the southern regions of Sudan and has written an eight-volume monograph, “Living on Earth in the Sky: The Anyuak.” The books describe the life of the Anyuak community in Southern Sudan.
Akuthi Okoth, who lives in Stillwater, said when she was 9 years old, she talked with Perner with her father, Ojulu. “Dr. Perner and my father would sit in the shop area near my home and drink tea and visit,” said Akuthi.
Perner told Akuthi that her father was one of the most helpful people he interviewed when writing his books.
Ophogi Obang, who lives in Austin, has memories of Perner’s visit to his hometown. “Dr. Perner visited the town I lived in when I was 7 years old. He has done a lot for the Anyuak people, and I have read his books.”
Perner encouraged Sudan immigrants to grow into their American society but try not to forget the good things from the culture they came from. “You should learn English, but teach your children the Anyuak language. Language is the pillar of our identity and it is the key to keeping a culture alive,” said Perner.
Perner is also one of the founders of the non-profit, independent, community-based project Gurtong Trust – Peace and Media project. The goal of the project is to bring mutual respect and peace among the South Sudanese. Perner has also worked with the International Red Cross and UNICEF.
At the conclusion of Perner’s presentation, representatives from Austin's Human Rights Commission presented Perner with a humanitarian award.
Perner said goodbye to the audience in Anyuak.
Ojoye Akane, one of the organizers of the event, said, “I am so grateful that our Austin library now has Dr. Perner’s books available. I think it would be easy for the Anyuak language to disappear, and now we have all this history of the language and the Anyuak community in print."
Perner has also written a series of books about the Anyuak language, including an English- Anyuak and an Anyuak-English Dictionary.
The event was sponsored by Our Savior’s Lutheran Church, the Anyuak Faith Community, the Human Rights Commission and the Alliance for Educational Equity.
Sarah Lysne is a freelance writer in Austin.
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