Drums, dancing hail African Nobel laureate Wangari Maathai
December 10, 2004
OSLO, Norway – To the beat of African drums, Kenyan environmentalist Wangari Maathai received her Nobel Peace Prize on Friday, telling the audience of royals, celebrities and diplomats that protecting the world’s resources is linked to halting violence.
“Today, we are faced with a challenge that calls for a shift in our thinking, so that humanity stops threatening its life-support system,” the first African woman and first environmental activist to win the peace prize said.
Maathai, 64, warned that the world remained under attack from disease, deforestation and war.
“We are called to assist the Earth to heal her wounds, and in the process heal our own, indeed, to embrace the whole creation in all its diversity, beauty and wonder,” she told the crowd of dignitaries, including the Norwegian royal family as well as talk show host Oprah Winfrey and Kerry Kennedy, a daughter of the late Sen. Robert F. Kennedy.
“This will happen if we see the need to revive our sense of belonging to a larger family of life, with which we have shared our evolutionary process,” said Maathai, who founded the Green Belt Movement. She receiving the traditional gold medal and diploma that accompanies the $1.5 million prize.
Before she took the stage, the usually stodgy ceremony lit up with color and sound as three African dancers and accompanying drummers pounded out a brief piece of African music that echoed off the walls of the large auditorium. Maathai herself wore a brilliant orange traditional dress with a matching scarf in her hair.
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In neighboring Sweden, the other Nobel prizes – for medicine, physics, chemistry, literature and economics – were awarded.
Bengt Samuelsson, chairman of the board of the Nobel Foundation, addressed the frequently heard criticism that too few women have received the Nobel Prize over the years. While only 31 of the 705 Nobel Prizes handed out since 1901 have gone to women, Samuelsson pointed out that there were three this year.
Afterward, more than 1,300 guests, including the laureates’ relatives, Sweden’s royal family, government officials, ambassadors, scientists and business leaders, attended the Nobel banquet.
Absent from Stockholm was the literature prize winner, Elfriede Jelinek of Austria, who cited a social phobia. Although she sent a prerecorded video lecture, she did not send any prepared remarks for the banquet.
Presenting her award, Horace Engdahl, the permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy, said the writer has “given new currency to a heretical feminine tradition and have expanded the art of literature.”
Americans Richard Axel and Linda B. Buck won the medicine prize for their work on the sense of smell. Americans David J. Gross, H. David Politzer and Frank Wilczek won the physics prize for their explanation of the force that binds particles inside the atomic nucleus.
The chemistry prize was awarded to Israelis Aaron Ciechanover and Avram Hershko and American Irwin Rose for their work in discovering a process that lets cells destroy unwanted proteins.
Norwegian Finn E. Kydland and American Edward C. Prescott received the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences for shedding light on how government policies and actions affect economies worldwide.
The economics prize was introduced in 1968 and is funded by Sweden’s central bank. The other awards are funded by the Nobel Foundation.
Maathai’s selection for the peace prize raised eyebrows because of controversy about statements she reportedly made asserting that AIDS was created by scientists and loosed upon Africa by the West.
But she told The Associated Press that the comments were misquoted and taken out of context.
“I have not said what I’m quoted as saying,” she said of claims that.
In a statement released by the Nobel committee, she underlined that “I neither say nor believe that the virus was developed by white people or white powers in order to destroy the African people. Such views are wicked and destructive.”
The Nobel Prizes are always presented on Dec. 10, the anniversary of the death of their creator, Swedish industrialist Alfred Nobel. The peace prize is presented in Oslo, while the others are awarded in Stockholm. Last year, the peace prize was given to Iranian human rights activist Shirin Ebadi. Former President Jimmy Carter received it in 2002.
Associated Press Writer Matt Moore contributed to this story from Stockholm.
On the Net:
Nobel Peace Prize: http://www.nobel.no