Wednesday, December 14, 2016

African Storytelling at St. Olaf College

This evening, following an invitation by Karibu, a St. Olaf College student organization, I made a presentation on African storytelling. I am passionate about sharing the heritage of the African people of which I am deeply proud. I have done this in the past, at St. Olaf College and other places.

This evening, as usual, I began by highlighting the central significance of Africa as the cradle of the human race. This has important implications, including the fact that Africa is where language and storytelling originated. I went on to briefly explain the functions of storytelling, such as mediating the human endeavour to interpret and understand the world and the human condition.

In order to illustrate the African way of philosophizing about life, I discussed three proverbs: i) Before you cross the river, don't insult the crocodile's mouth. 2) Even though you may be taller than your father, you still are not his equal. 3) It is because of man that the blacksmith makes weapons. The last two proverbs, from the Ashanti, are published in Harold Courlander's A Treasury of African Folklore.

After this, I told two folktales: "The Chief's Daughter," from the Gurensi people of Burkina Faso, which is published in Steven H. Gale's West African Folktales, and "The Coming of the Yams," an Ashanti tale published in Harold Courlander's A Treasury of African Folklore. Both tales are complex and profound meditations on the dilemmas of life.

In my evolution as a folklorist, I have come to believe that when I am invited to perform folktales, I should never read them to the audience. If I do not know the tale, I read it in advance, and then perform it in front of the audience. That way, I feel I am staying true to the reality of oral performance. The Ashanti tale I told today is one I did not know before. I read it a short while before performing it.

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